Why I Won’t Be Reading Go Set A Watchman…

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 to say the US edition is swoon worthy… I must resist in September.

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.

25 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

25 responses to “Why I Won’t Be Reading Go Set A Watchman…

  1. I think I agree. I was interested at first but now I have no desire to read it. Maybe one day when all the hoohah has died down.

  2. My thoughts exactly. I thought about it, but I’m not going to read Watchman, I want TKAM to stay perfect in my mind. I think with all the hoopla and hype of the past few months, it has gotten a bit lost that this is a first draft, not really a separate book.

  3. I bought a copy in the supermarket, but plan to hide it at the back of my bookshelves until I can come across it by accident and decide whether I do want to read it or not. But certainly NOT at the moment.

  4. lizzysiddal

    My pre-ordered copy arrived today, but I have decided not to read it and am returning it.

    I credit TKAM with making me a lifelong reader and I have read it 7 times. It keeps on getting better.

    As Harper Lee once said when asked why she had not penned any more, “the only way is down”. I don’t want that to happen to my experience of her writing.

  5. Kateg

    When it was first announced that Go Tell a Watchman was going to be published, I was very dismayed. To Kill a Mockingbird is my Rebecca and I was nervous about Harper Lee’s first go at the characters. I was not going to read or buy it. More recently, I thought I might want to read it and I have ordered a copy from a non-local independent bookshop, so I don’t have it yet. After hearing about the NY times review and reading another review, I am putting it aside after I receive it. I may be mocked for my deep feelings for Mockingbird and my inability to risk those feelings on Watchmen. Atticus is on of the ideal characters in literature and I am not sure I could bear him or Scout transposed into different versions of themselves. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to pick it up, but meanwhile, I have a stack of Booktopia Petoskey books to get through!

  6. One good thing is that it’s got me thinking a lot about “Mockingbird” and today felt like a good day to review it on my blog. That also clarified for me why I’m not camping out at a bookshop – for many of the reasons you mentioned in your post

  7. This is a great article and sums up a lot of the things I feel about Go Set a Watchman. I won’t be reading it as I can’t shake the uneasy feeling that this particular draft, novel or whatever anyone wants to call it, shouldn’t even be out there…

  8. You’ve made the right decision. I mostly wish I hadn’t.

  9. Well I nearly brought a copy today but then thought why did she harper not want it published at the time and why is it coming out now and now a third book this is a trend in publishing thou like the wallace book and a few others in recent years .This is just first of a few I think.we dint know how much salinager wrote I imagine he must have written something so that will probably come out over the years

  10. Initially I thought exactly the same, then I read a book of essays about TKAM that included one from Nelle Harper Lee’s sister Alice and one from their pastor, who at the time of writing was also their friend. The three lunched together most Saturdays and he described how active in the community Alice was, implying Nelle was too though, and how different emotionally they were ie Alice more conservative and Nelle more instantly emotional. I slept on this and then wondered if the non-publication of the more mature narrative was to protect Alice and her feelings about their father on whom Atticus is obviously based. Now Alice is dead she no longer needs this protection. Nelle Harper Lee’s writing is wonderful, extremely clever, marvellous and subtle. I don’t see why a narrative of an older Scout/Jean Louise’s view of life, of her father and town wouldn’t also be clever and marvellously interesting. We all see our parents anew when we realise they’re people as well as parents and part of maturing is coming to terms with that.
    I changed my opinion and await delivery, await reading and then making up my mind on this novel, and I’m excited about it.

    • Good for you, Carol — sensible words. I’m going to read it and review it on Shiny New Books 6 Extra. I’ve just re-read TKAM in preparation. I’m going to try not to read reviews, and I’m ignoring all the conspiracy theories and general media fuss. I’m hoping to try to treat it as a novel in its own right and am looking forward to it very much — starting it today!

      • Thankyou Harriet.
        I’ve now read it without stopping and have to state unequivocally that I truly believe it should have been published, that I believe Harper Lee both wanted and needed this novel to be in the public realm and that I believe probably correct my speculation that she needed to protect her much more conservative sister Alice, and so waited to publish until after Alice’s death.
        And I think it’s great in a completely different way to the superb TKAM.

    • Without giving anything away, 170 pages in, I can see a lot of reasons why publishers and those in Lee’s circle wouldn’t have liked the book, or felt like it should be published and it has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

  11. I won’t be reading it right now. I don’t have the time and feel like I want to see what pans out with the ethical issues here. I like To Kill a Mockingbird, but don’t have the same emotional attachment that others have. I’m angry that some reviewers are inferring that this published first draft puts her ability to write TKAM in doubt though- good luck to them to write an amazing first draft of a debut novel that is as good as their second! It just throws back to the whole scandal suggesting that Truman Capote wrote the novel instead of Lee, and it’s so disgustingly sexist that I want to scream. I feel dreadful for Lee that her first draft novel is being held up against TKAM, when it’s really just the first iteration of it (and it’s a damn hard act to follow), and now people are throwing shade on her credibility for it.

  12. you have a fair point here Simon. I only read TKAM recently too and loved it – why didn’t I read it sooner?! but a revised edition of it – I’m not entirely convinced myself….

  13. Well, I read it. And my simple reaction is this: it shouldn’t have been published. And not because I was in love with TKaM or the characters. There are so many reasons why this book is a mess, although the writing is lovely for a first book.

  14. I feel like I’m admitting a dirty secret here, but I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird. I was wondering whether it would be worth reading Go Set a Watchman totally fresh, without that set of expectations in my head, but I’m getting the impression it’s not really worth it.

  15. I’m really torn about this. I enjoyed the sample chapter of GSAW but it also made me apprehensive. It seems so pedestrian compared with the great events and unusual perspective of TKAM. I think I’d rather go back and reread TKAM.

  16. Equally torn and sitting on the proverbial fence still. The new hardback sitting on the bookshelf, but can’t quite bring myself to drop everything else to dive in…

  17. Pingback: Forget the hype, read the book – hogglestock

  18. I totally agree! I smelt a money trap right from the start and added with the fact that there hasn’t been any literary scandal in a while. That only aids in selling more expensive hardcovers. A travesty! I’m the same as you. I want the TKAM to be preserved in mind from the last time I read it. I don’t see why anyone would want to read somebody’s draft – a draft that hasn’t been edited at all and for a whopping $25+. None of that makes any sense to me. Publishing manipulation is what that is.

  19. Selah

    Gosh, that has summed up everything I feel on the subject but haven’t been able to articulate. Thanks Simon.

  20. Maybe it depends on what that first review we read was. I read Cassie’s review here, well known for her passionate, honest and forthright views, it’s a great balancer and a refreshing look at pure story. She thought she would hate it, so bought a kindle copy for easy delete. But she read it anyway and had a very different exerience than was expected.

    Read on…

    “Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

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