Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Go Set a Watchman.

...it's taken a week, but I'm finally ready to share a few thoughts on Go Set a Watchman.

Please note that I am not calling this "Harper Lee's latest novel." My understanding, rather, is that this is the first manuscript she submitted for publication, back in 1957. Under the direction of her editor (I think she passed away in the 1970's...boy would it be great to have her perspective now - although I have to admit, if she were alive, I doubt this book would've been published), she re-worked it into the novel that was ultimately published in 1960...our beloved To Kill a Mockingbird.

I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird earlier this summer and have to say I loved it even more this time around. And after reading GSaW, I still love it just as much. Maybe even more since I now have a glimpse into the process that created it. In fact, I think I want to read TKaM again in another month or two to really appreciate all that editing!

I don't plan to ever re-read GSaW, however, for two reasons. First, it's simply not well-written. Yes, there are places where Lee's wit glimmers. One scene that I even enjoyed - for about two pages - described a "coffee" hosted by Jean Louise (Scout)'s Aunt Alexandra.
What do they talk about these days? Jean Louise had lost her ear, but presently recovered it. The Newlyweds chatted smugly of their Bobs and Michaels ... The Diaper Set ... distressed her beyond measure ... The Light Brigade ... in their early and middle thirties, they devoted most of their free time to the Amanuensis Club, bridge, and getting one-up on each other in the matter of electrical appliances ... Jean Louise looked at the three Perennial Hopefuls on her right. 
But the plot feels contrived - if anyone does read this and can explain what Dr. Finch (Scout's Uncle Jack) was talking about? - and the flashbacks to Scout's childhood don't always support or even follow along with the present-day story.

And then, of course, is the subject matter. A small Southern town trying to deal with the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ultimately led to desegregation. It's just plain ugly. Even more so because I know it's a true recount of small Southern town life then...and sadly, still ... and not just in the South (although I can only hope it's not quite as prevalent).

The media has made much out of Atticus Finch turning into a racist (and make no mistake, Atticus Finch in GSaW is a racist!) But if you think about GSaW as the precursor to TKaM, the transition was the other way around; he evolved from a racist into a civil rights advocate. I don't know if we have Harper Lee or her editor to thank for that, but I'm grateful nonetheless. Or maybe we can thank Harper Lee's father who was the model for Atticus. Apparently he was a segregationist when GSaW was written and had a change of heart while Lee was reworking it. One review I read references Charles Shields, author of the biography Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee:
Mr. Shields said Mr. Lee's late-in-life shift could explain the transformation of Atticus through the authors' drafts from a bigot in "Watchman" to a civil-rights hero in "Mockingbird," and why in interviews after "Mockingbird" she spoke glowingly of her father. "She may have been very proud of him," Mr. Shields said.
I'm still waiting to have an in-person discussion about the book; hopefully that will happen tomorrow evening with my sister (over wine and knitting...seems like the right backdrop for that discussion). But I feel like I've come to terms with it.  I wanted to read the book so I could participate first-hand in the conversation; I'm still glad I did.

Thank you to my mom for sharing so many clippings with me. And to this Bookriot podcast.  I also spent many hours poring over the articles posted on the Bookriot website on July 14, "Harper Lee Day".

...of course today is Tuesday, and that means there's a whole lot of fun happening with the Ten on Tuesday crowd. Check out Carole's blog to see what the fun's about today.

There's also a whole lot of fun happening here. Charlie had fun exploring the newly organized bookshelves in my yarn room this morning. with a ball of yarn in tow :-)
I don't think he recognized either his mama or me in that photo! (ca. 2005)

11 comments:

  1. Thank-you for that beautiful review! I'm not sure I'll read it, but I'm certainly going to re-read TKaM. And he-lllooo Charlie!

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the book. I don't plan to read it so I appreciate knowing what it's like. I did just re-read TKAM and I was struck again by just how fantastic it is.

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  3. I haven't read GSaW (only the first chapter), and probably won't, only because I wish HarperCollins had marketed it more honestly as a first draft, not a sequel or new novel. After her sister Alice's death and Tonja Carter's "discovery" of the manuscript, I wish we could have heard directly from Harper Lee herself with some assurance that she actually was of a mind to give consent for publication of GSaW. I did wonder about how she rewrote GSaW into TKaM, and found this article about Lee's editor, Tay Hohoff, quite interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/13/books/the-invisible-hand-behind-harper-lees-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html?_r=0
    Thanks for a review from someone who's actually read the book!

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  4. Charlie looks like a busy little man! Thanks for the review, it makes me want to re-read TKaM.

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  5. I read something on Tumblr about GSaW that basically amounted to Harper Lee's sister (who controlled her estate/"business dealings") recently died and after that all the GSaW stuff was set in motion. It gives off the entire air of Lee not being in her right mind currently and a bunch of money-hungry publishers without her best interest at heart pushing her to publish what is effectively a draft of a novel. It's all very sad, but I'm glad your enjoyment of TKaM wasn't ruined.

    I also heard on NPR earlier today that one book store owner is offering refunds to readers who bought GSaW because of the hype and ended up not liking it!

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  6. I read something on Tumblr about GSaW that basically amounted to Harper Lee's sister (who controlled her estate/"business dealings") recently died and after that all the GSaW stuff was set in motion. It gives off the entire air of Lee not being in her right mind currently and a bunch of money-hungry publishers without her best interest at heart pushing her to publish what is effectively a draft of a novel. It's all very sad, but I'm glad your enjoyment of TKaM wasn't ruined.

    I also heard on NPR earlier today that one book store owner is offering refunds to readers who bought GSaW because of the hype and ended up not liking it!

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  7. I feel as Bonny and Sara that Harper Lee may not have wished this book to be published. I feel very sure I will not read it, but I appreciate your doing so and your insights into the characters.
    Charlie looks happy to have his hands on some of your yarn. That smile is priceless.

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  8. Okay, first, it'll be so much fun when Charlie does start talking and can point and tell us who is in the many family photos. I haven't read TKaM in a very long time, so it definitely needs a re-read. Between the news and recently published books with historical/current racist themes, and for the most part always only calling out southern racism, I'm kinda over all that so won't be reading this GSaW. Racism is not relegated (and never has been) to one geographical area or county. A nice meaty book on how far women have come in this country would be a refreshing change-end of rant ;-)

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  9. GSaW has been sitting among a pile of books since pub date…I haven't been interested in reading it after all the hullabaloo and comments upon its publication…I will, tho' and appreciate your viewpoint and review. I think the reviews all go to underscore just how truly masterful a piece of work TKaM really is!
    Cheers~

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  10. PS. Do you think Charlie will become a knitter? He looks ready! Cute, as always!
    Cheers~

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  11. Thanks for a wonderful review and for sharing your thoughts!

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Thanks for the feedback!