Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why I'm (probably) not going to read "Go Set A Watchman"

Recently, a "new" book, Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee, was released. If her name sounds familiar, it's because she's the acclaimed (read: Pulitzer Prize-winning) author of the fantastic classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird. It's one of the few books we were forced to read by English teachers that we didn't completely hate, partially because there was an equally enjoyable movie to watch when we were finished. 

Harper Lee has the odd distinction of also being the Baha Men of authors--a veritable one-hit wonder in the world of books. If I had a choice, I'd much rather have produced TKAM than "Who Let the Dogs Out?". 

So, Lee coming out with a second novel--did I mention she's only published one of note? No? Well, TKAM was it until recently--is a big freaking deal.

And, as of right now, I have no plans to read it.

Will I change my mind? Probably at some point, but let me explain why I feel this way.

While reports vary slightly, according to many sources, GSAW was a rough first draft of TKAM, recovered recently (2014?) by Lee's lawyer in a safe deposit box and brought to the attention of Lee's agent, who obviously passed it on to the publisher HarperCollins. And I'm not sure this is a good thing. 

My biggest issue: If it were me and someone came across early drafts of my work (very possible--I have drafts upon drafts in various stages of completion on my computer), I'd be smacking my forehead repeatedly into a table (or rolling around in my grave) if they saw the light of day.  My early drafts (affectionately and appropriately called "shitty first drafts") are not meant to be released--that's the idea.  And I think that's what gets me the most about this--that GSAW was meant to be what became TKAM, and was not meant to be released on its own.

Then, more disconcerting, there have been many reports that Lee has been in declining health in recent years (she was born in 1926), and she has said publicly over and over that she had no intention of writing another novel (or at least publishing one).  I know I'm not the first to question how much input she had about the publication of GSAW, and that makes author-me wince. How true any of this is...no idea. Just commenting on stuff I've read in the media.

Secondly--and this is author-me talking again--would an author really--really--want an early draft of a novel released? In one of the online posts I read (scroll down to 2015: Go Set A Watchman for what I'm talking about), the books were said to have been part of a planned trilogy--Mockingbird first, a shorter book in between as a bridge, then Watchman last. This is likely to be speculation, though, so I took this with a grain of salt. But if GSAW is (was?) an early draft of TKAM, how much was changed? It wasn't published at the time it was written, probably for a variety of reasons, but those will likely stay between Lee and her editor. A bit of this post on Wikipedia mentions that TKAM was birthed from the draft because the most compelling parts of the draft of GSAW were the flashbacks of young Jean Louise (Scout)--score one for a solid editor! But I wonder, was the draft (manuscript?) of GSAW released as-is, or was it heavily edited to make a more compelling story? Did Lee have input into that?  If it was just released more or less as-is, what was the goal?

Did Lee have full creative control over the newly published novel? She certainly could have (and we're likely to not conclusively find out whether she did or not anyway).  And could GSAW have been crafted into something amazing and separate from the early manuscript that became TKAM? Absolutely--it already became TKAM through numerous edits.

But I won't be finding out right at this time.

Have you read Go Set A Watchman? If you did, what did you think? Thoughts on these issues?

xoxo Sarah

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