Watch: Harper Lee ‘has all her marbles’

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Go Set a Watchman’ review: Harper Lee’s followup to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ features a racist Atticus Finch.

As a present, his wife Ruth took the Toronto high school English teacher on a trip to Monroeville, Ala., to visit the novelist’s hometown, where she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. After reading Michiko Kakutani’s review of Harper Lee’s novel “Go Set a Watchman,” I couldn’t help but feel a sense of worry and sadness about the Atticus Finch the book holds in its pages.Revelations in a new novel that Atticus Finch — the lawyer who battles inequality in “To Kill a Mockingbird” — is a racist man in old age has put off some readers, though not enough to keep them from buying the sequel.Though ‘s “Go Set A Watchman” won’t be released until midnight Tuesday, anxious readers are watching the clock as they wait for pre-ordered copies or add their names to waiting lists at local libraries.

From midnight last night, Harper Lee fans emerged from book shops all over America and braced themselves for an encounter with the ugly side of Atticus Finch. As a native of Alabama, I had held up Atticus in my own mind as a redemptive figure, a symbol of hope, a hero who was brave enough to fight for what is right despite the poisonous and dangerous pools of racism long associated with whites in the Deep South. So the question isn’t “Is ‘Go Set a Watchman’ a worthy sequel?” The real question is “Can ‘Mockingbird’ and Lee’s reputation survive the follow-up?” “Watchman” — the sequel — is actually the first novel Lee submitted in 1957. Sometimes parents are inspired to choose a celebrity name because it’s “how they (first) heard it,” Wattenberg said — not necessarily because they want to honor the celebrity. Among the items found inside that Monroeville, Ala. box in 2011 were a partially-opened envelope that appears to contain the original “Mockingbird” manuscript, plus a Lord & Taylor box that housed “Watchman” and, Carter said, “a significant number of pages of another typed text.” Carter adds that Lee’s “correspondence” suggests those unmarked pages may be a third novel, one that would bridge the action of “Mockingbird,” set in the 1930s, and “Watchman,” the sequel set in the ’50s.

But her editor was fascinated with the “Mockingbird” plotline that was reflected in flashbacks, so she asked for a rewrite of the book from the perspective of the 6-year-old Scout instead of the adult one. The 2 million orders on Amazon alone could generate $30 million in revenue for News Corp., the parent of publisher HarperCollins, said Barry Lucas, an analyst at Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York. “You’re starting to talk about real money” with possible further printings and e-book sales, Lucas said. “You’ll see some of the impact of it in the company’s first-quarter results for September.” The impact could rival that of the “Divergent” series of young adult fiction, Lucas said. She is a lifelong Harper Lee fan, and named her daughter, age 6, after the author. “A lot of people are upset about this change they didn’t see coming in his character. An example she offered is the television reality show “Teen Mom” on MTV, which has inspired names including mom Maci and son Bentley. “It’s all about the name and not the fame,” she said. “There are some warning signs,” she said. “If that celebrity is referred to as first-name only in the press, that’s a sign that, in the popular imagination, they own the name,” and a child will be saddled with the baggage. “It’s good to keep in mind how much a name is linked to a particular figure,” Wattenberg said. “If the name only came into popularity because of that one person, if it’s linked to that one person, then bad publicity toward that celebrity can really rub off on the name.”

Contradicting statements by Pinkus, Carter said she was not in the room at the time “Watchman” might have been discussed and that no one mentioned the book to her. In a single quarter last year, those books helped boost profit in News Corp.’s book-publishing division by 83 percent to $53 million, minus interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. Until Sunday, Carter had said little about “Watchman.” Set in Lee’s fictional Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1950s, “Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird,” but takes place 20 years later. But in “Watchman,” Jean Louise returns to Maycomb, Ala., to find that her 72-year-old father is one of the racists leading the charge against Brown v. Finch argued his way into the hearts and minds of readers as the fictional courtroom defender of Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in “Mockingbird.” In the second book, which Lee actually wrote first, Finch’s daughter visits Alabama from New York to see her father as a bigoted attendee of a local Ku Klux Klan meeting. “My heart is breaking a little bit.

I think there will be more conversations about the character of Atticus and the complexity of who he is, and maybe we can transfer some of that discussion into what’s going on with race in our world today.” The Denver Public Library will have 252 copies of “Watchman,” including large-type, regular type, e-books, audio books and 11 Spanish translations. Lukewarm reviews and reports of the book’s raw account of an elderly, racist Atticus Finch have not prevented “Watchman” from holding the No. 1 spot on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. “Mockingbird,” published in 1960, was No. 2 as of midday Monday.

HarperCollins has said that preorders for the book are the highest in the history of the publisher. “We’ve been keeping it away from the public, but we fully expect to be sold out,” said McCormack, the buyer for the store. Carter has been the object of skepticism since February, when HarperCollins revealed the stunning news that a second novel from Lee would be released. The book retails for $34.99 in Canada. “We usually sell at least one a week, but we’ve likely sold in the hundreds over the last few weeks,” said McCormack. “This is a book that has great nostalgia. In this Aug. 20, 2007, file photo, author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. (Rob Carr, Associated Press file) The Douglas County libraries have long waiting lists, too — 405 people signed up for one of 160 hardbacks, 79 readers are on the list for large-type, and 59 listeners are anxious to hear the audio book. Many wondered whether the 89-year-old Lee, who has poor hearing and eyesight and lives in an assisted facility in her native Monroeville, had approved the publication.

Book publishing accounted for about a fifth of News Corp.’s revenue in the fiscal third quarter, which ended in March, and is the second-biggest segment after news and information services. At the end of her op-ed piece, Carter suggested that the “typed text” in the box of papers could be an early “Watchman” draft or a third book “bridging” the stories of “Mockingbird” and “Watchman.” Lee’s literary agent, Andrew Nurnberg, has previously said that he has seen old letters between Lee and her then-agent that indicated “Mockingbird” was part of a planned trilogy. “In the coming months, experts, at Nelle’s direction, will be invited to examine and authenticate all the documents in the safe-deposit box,” Carter wrote. Nobody really thought about how it would be different when told from the viewpoint of a 30-something-year-old returning to her hometown, she said. “But that change is something that many of us (who are) that age, or older, experience when we go home, and we see our parents with adult eyes.” But the 89-year-old author, now mostly confined to an assisted living facility, said in a statement she was “happy as hell” to see “Watchman” released. Questions have already been raised as to whether the author fully understands the circumstances surrounding the publication of a new work this late in her career.

Perhaps it was hard all these years to carry around the secret that Atticus — so revered by the nation’s book lovers — was actually conceived as a proud bigot. It is one thing to defend an individual African-American, and another thing entirely to envision the demise of what was essentially a race-based caste system in the South.

As a (white) child growing up in Houston in the 1960s, I was taken to visit relatives in the rural Mississippi Delta, where I often heard adults whom I respected express opinions similar to those reported in the book.

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