Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, February 06, 2015

Celebrating the second coming of Harper Lee

A major announcement has rocked the literary world this week, as news of a second novel by acclaimed author Harper Lee to be released this summer is stirring up all kinds of talk.

The book in question,Go Set a Watchman, was actually Ms. Lee's first novel about Scout Finch and her father Atticus. Encouraged by an editor to write more about her leading lady's childhood days, To Kill a Mockingbird became her major work instead. The manuscript for her earlier effort was tucked away with a galley of TKAM and recently discovered, much to the delight of many of Harper Lee's  multi-generational audience:

 I count myself as a very small part of this audience, as I came to TKAM only a few years ago, thanks in part to Mary McDonagh Murphy's documentary Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Discovering this book at an adult age perhaps gives me a different perspective on it's legacy than the majority of readers who were introduced to TKAM as children and teens. Having such a strong female character as Scout with an equally strong and solid father figure as Atticus Finch as emotional templates can make a reader feel incredibly protective of this special corner of the American literary landscape in a way that no other book can:

That may explain the mounting concerns and objections being raised about the publication of Go Set a Watchman on and offline lately.

 Some are worried that Harper Lee is not fully capable of consenting to the book's release due to her health issues and there was trouble a few years back when her trust(and money) was taken advantage of by an unscrupulous agent(the case was settled out of court) and with Ms. Lee's sister Alice having passed on recently, a few folks find the discovery of this earlier work "suspicious" to say the least.

While I am just as concerned about Harper Lee being properly paid for her book, I do believe that, considering the legal action taken over her copyright recently, the publisher would be even more careful as to gaining the proper permissions here(and I'm not just saying that because I get reader's copies from Harper Collins from time to time).

 Also, speaking as the daughter of a retired nurse who spent most of her professional years working with the elderly, just because a person has had a stroke and is declining in certain physical senses doesn't mean that they are mentally on the decline as well.

 Since longevity and mental sharpness seems to run in Ms. Lee's family(her sister Alice was 104 when she died and still active in the law), unless solid evidence is produced to the contrary, I am willing to take the official statements from Ms. Lee's representatives, which say she is pleased about the publication, at their word:

 The objections that truly bother me are the ones that insist that TKAM's place in the canon might be jeopardized by this new book, that maybe if GSAWM doesn't live up to the high expectations of it's more acclaimed sibling , people will no longer appreciate any of Harper Lee's work.

Some have even said they would've preferred this book to come out after the author's death and still more insist that since Lee had said that she's "Boo Radley", that her one perfect book is all that should be out there in the world. I find all of these notions to be utter nonsense.

First of all, reading a writer's earlier or uncompleted works is a wonderful way to better enhance your appreciation of their entire body of writing. A fine example is Jane Austen, who only had six completed novels yet most of her followers delight in her juvenilia such as "Catherine, or The Bower" and "Love and Freindship"(yes, she spelled it that way!). While they may not be as popular as Pride and Prejudice or Emma, these early stories are considered a bonus rather than a detraction from Austen's standing in the time honored classics arena.

And believe me, if a lost manuscript of Jane Austen's turned up, all of us JA fans would be jumping up and down with sheer giddy delight and lining up like hipsters at the Apple store for the first shot at getting a copy from our local book store on the day of it's official release. Asking for the book to be put off until Harper Lee's death is distasteful as well as disrespectful, in my opinion.

Next, I feel that the need to place Harper Lee in a special little casing where her status as a recluse artist with only one grand masterpiece is both condescending and pretentious. Any writer has more than one story in him or her and no one produces an exceptionally work of art without a good number of first drafts and half completed attempts in the process.

This myth of the isolated writer whose genius is too good for this world is a bit much and to those who kept saying "but she's Boo!" should read the book again. Boo Radley kept to himself but didn't wish to be totally shut off from society. His attempts to connect to Scout and Jem over the course of the novel show that and while his big rescue on that fateful Halloween night didn't lead to more interaction with them, it also wasn't completely out of the blue either.

If Harper Lee wishes at this stage of her life to share more of her talent with us, then we should be happy and grateful to accept what she has to offer. A lady is entitled to change her mind, after all, and I suspect she's a lot sharper than certain people are willing to give her credit for these days:

All in all, I believe we should be happy that such a double blessing as Harper Lee still being with us and that she has another book about Scout and Atticus(and possibly a third, if the rumors are true) for us to enjoy is nothing short of a minor miracle.

To Kill a Mockingbird has, since it's arrival in 1960, been a lighting rod of controversy from critics and censors alike, so it's really not a surprise that any follow-up would engender no less of a response from the pop culture world. Yet, it has also been a uniting point for many as well, bringing together those on opposite ends of the social spectrum to find a common thread of love,acceptance and hope for a better world.

So, when Go Set a Watchman does arrive at bookstores and libraries this summer, maybe it will be a time of reflective reading and a book that bridges yet another set of generations together. At the very least, it should be respected as the place where the ideals of Scout and Atticus Finch began. At any rate, Go Set a Watchman ought to be worth standing up for on sheer principle alone and I look forward to seeing so for myself come July:

No comments: