Julia Konwick ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Contributor
If students were going to be completely honest with their high school English teachers, almost all of them would admit to not doing some, if not all, of their assigned readings. To be fair, though, a lot of the books assigned in high schools are not exactly what many would call a good read. There are really only a handful that are worth the time it takes to finish, and the best one of those, by far, is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s only published novel has been deemed an American classic for a reason; the story is poignant and powerful, but also accessible and a quick and easy read. It has also been more relevant recently than it has in years, which is why, if it was one skipped in high school, it should be revisited now. The only real thing wrong with the book is that there was no sequel, or even anything else by Lee for people to read – until now.
Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird rejoiced this week when, on February 3rd, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing, announced that a second novel by Lee will be published this July. The new book, most likely to be titled Go Set a Watchman, was written before Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, but actually takes place when Scout, the narrator of TKM, is an adult. As exciting as this announcement was, though, the details surrounding the release of this new book seem to be a little fishy.
Everyone, including Lee herself and her Editor, seemed to be surprised at the discovery of this novel that has spent fifty-five years in hiding. In the press release (which you can read here), she is quoted in saying that she thought the book had been lost before her lawyer found it in an “undisclosed location.” Then, in an interview with Vulture that same day (available here), Lee’s Editor, Hugh van Dusen, said that he had no idea the book existed until the day before the announcement was made. He comes right out and says that he has not read it yet, and he is uncertain about whether or not the book will even be edited before its release. This is after he says that when she took the book to the publisher in the ‘50s, they decided not to publish it and encouraged Lee to write another book about the backstory of the novel, which became TKM.
If that was not enough, van Dusen says that, because Lee is “going mostly blind and deaf,” the publishers are not trying to get in contact with her about the publishing process. It seems that because it is hard to call her in her assisted care facility that they are simply going and doing the publication without consulting her about any of it. Van Dusen is quite adamant that Lee knows about the plans and has given permission for Harper to publish the book, and that she is apparently very excited about it, but some, like Mallory Ortberg of The Toast, seem to be rather skeptical.
In her commentary on the Vulture interview (which can be found here), Ortberg points out many of the confusing and contradictory statements that van Dusen made. She also brings up Lee’s lawsuit surrounding TKM that happened a few years ago, which she provides a link to in her post, and voices concern that something similar may be happening here and that Lee might be being taken advantage of. Her concerns do seem to be a little extreme, seeing as van Dusen and the lawyer that found this new book both seem to be very close to Lee, but even so, this matter really should be looked into further before any more talk of publication happens.
As much as a new Harper Lee novel would be a blessing for all of her fans and the literary community at large, it should not come at the expense of a woman who has given so much to readers for over fifty years, even though she only wrote one book. Hopefully this matter will be solved by the release date, but only time, and a close following of any new information, will tell whether or not Go Set a Watchman truly deserves to be on the shelf. If a satisfying end to this confusion does not surface before July, the purchase of it by fans should be thought about carefully. The last thing anyone wants is for Lee to be short-changed for her own brilliant work.