To clarify before we go any further, I never have an agenda to stop anyone reading any books. As a book blogger this would be bonkers. If I don’t like a book or don’t want to read a book and any of you lovely lot out there do, that’s great, that is what books are all about and I know you are all intelligent enough to make your own decisions and ignore me if you think I am off on one. I also think that anything that encourages people to read in their droves (yes, even Fifty Shades of Grey) is a good thing because reading is a good thing, full stop. I have even posted this later so hopefully those of you rushing to buy Go Set A Watchman will probably have collected it and be reading it at home ignoring this blog and indeed this post, curled up in your chosen book nook with a cup or glass of something lovely and maybe a biscuit or cake. Anyway…
I have had a strange old relationship with Go Set A Watchman, which is an unusual thing to say about a book I have not even lay my eyes or hands on, since the news was first announced that a first draft of what was to become To Kill A Mockingbird but now goes by the name of Go Set A Watchman (ooh it gets complicated) had been discovered once more. Not that anyone seemed to know it had existed, which seemed odd. Then there was all the hoo-ha about if she wanted it released and why her lawyer was all involved (note the lawyer who has now hinted that there might be another Harper Lee novel somewhere, raises eyebrows) and the publishers releasing some odd statement about her being ‘happy as hell’ when her sister Alice had stated her concerns over Harper a few years before. Being the cynic I am this led to the words ‘all sounds a bit fishy’ and ‘cash cow’ flying through my head.
Now I should state here that I adore To Kill A Mockingbird, which I actually only read for the first time seven years ago. I fell in love with the whole story and with Scout, Jem and of course, Atticus. Yet this love for the book is probably what is making me have such a reaction to a book which isn’t a sequel or a prequel but seems to be some alternate history/world of Maycomb County. How meta.
My mind did a complete 180 on all of this last Friday morning when I had the pleasure of Reese Witherspoon reading me the first chapter over my Shreddies, she’s forever reading me first chapters over breakfast that one. I was utterly charmed by it, I thought the writing and description sounded beautiful and, even if she did dispatch a main character just a few paragraphs in, I suddenly had high hopes. Fickle, yes I can be. I felt that my brain would be able to separate the two works and I could distinguish between the two characters, and most importantly despite it being a first draft that was never meant to be published (once again how we know all this when no one apparently knew it existed is beyond me, but we do) it seemed wonderfully written. Then I saw the first review.
Well actually it was the first headline, which then led me to the review which I won’t link to as I am trying to keep any spoilers out of this so I don’t infect you with the headlines the broadsheets thought it was ok to or indeed my cynicism. It has made me laugh that people are shocked by the backlash of the reviews – guys, it’s a first draft, how many authors would want a first draft of their work going out to the world unedited (especially when it had been asked to be changed for what could be all sorts of reasons which those of you who read it may discover) to the masses. Oh hang on, isn’t that what a lot of self published twaddle is? Haha. Seems interesting how publishers (or lawyers) want to be ‘gatekeepers’ until this happens. Sorry, back to the case in hand…
Whilst I tried to remind myself of this being a different version of the story, let alone the characters I suddenly couldn’t anymore. No matter how hard I tried. Whilst Go Set A Watchman might be a fascinating literary study as how drafts and editing change and work, it soon became clear to me that I don’t want a book as precious to me as To Kill A Mockingbird to be changed for me in anyway. Just as I wouldn’t want to read a sequel if Harper Lee wrote one tomorrow (if she had written it afterwards its different the essence of Maycomb would be there rather than the essence of cash) and I honestly wouldn’t. It is not even the fact that I can’t read about the subject matter, or put myself in the heads of those whose views I am completely opposed to – I do that often and love fiction for the fact it can create discussion about the dark (and much needed to be addressed) side of our world. It is more than that.
For the same reason I haven’t wanted to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, I want the world of Scout, Jem and Atticus to stay forever in my head just the way it is now, and just the way Harper Lee finally delivered it to the world – which is pretty much perfection . I am sure we can all agree on that one.
What are your thoughts? If you would like to hear me talking about this with Thomas of Hogglestock do check out the latest episode of The Readers here, you can also hear the wonderful Ann and Michael discussing it on this week’s Books on the Nightstand for a different angle too.