Tag Archives: Scout

New Harper Lee book already million seller

Critics dismissed it as a rough draft for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and readers despaired over an aging, racist Atticus Finch.

But Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” is still a million seller.

HarperCollins announced this week that “Go Set a Watchman” in its combined print, electronic and audio formats has sold 1.1 million copies in the U.S. and Canada, a figure which includes first-week sales and months of pre-orders. The publisher stunned the world in February when it revealed that a second novel was coming from Lee, who had long insisted that “To Kill a Mockingbird” would be her only book.

HarperCollins, where authors have included Michael Crichton and Veronica Roth, is calling “Watchman” its fastest seller in history. Other books have sold much faster: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” published in the U.S. by Scholastic in 2007, sold 8.3 million copies in its first 24 hours.

“Watchman” was released July 14 and as of early Monday remains at No. 1 on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com, with “Mockingbird” also in the top 10. HarperCollins has increased an initial print run of 2 million copies for “Watchman” to 3.3 million.

“Watchman” was completed before Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Mockingbird,” but is set in the same Alabama community 20 years later. Critics and readers were startled to find the heroic Atticus of “Mockingbird” disparaging blacks and condemning the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregation in public schools.

Questions about the book arose almost immediately after HarperCollins announced it, with Lee scholars noting that “Watchman” was the work of a young and inexperienced author and friends and admirers of the  89-year-old author worrying that the book had been approved without her participation. State officials in Lee’s native Alabama, where she resides in an assisted living facility, met with her and concluded she was alert and able to make decisions about “Watchman,” which Lee attorney Tonja Carter has said she discovered last year.

Harper Lee’s new novel is a story of lost innocence

Like her classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee novel out on July 14 is a coming of age story.

And not just for Scout Finch.

“Go Set a Watchman” is set in the famous fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the mid-1950s, 20 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird” takes place. Scout Finch, now a grown woman known by her given name Jean Louise, is visiting from New York, unsure of whether to marry a local suitor who she has known since childhood and enduring a painful contrast between her new life and the ways of her hometown.

Scout is no longer the tomboy we know from “Mockingbird,” but has transformed from an “overalled, fractious, gun-slinging creature into a reasonable facsimile of a human being.” She is “oppressed” by Maycomb, finds it petty and provincial. And she is shaken by the response to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1954 that declared segregation in schools is “inherently unequal.”

There is nervous talk of blacks holding public office, and marrying whites. One prominent resident warns Scout that the court moved too quickly, that blacks aren’t ready for full equality and the South has every right to object to interference from the NAACP and others.

“Can you blame the South for resenting being told what to do about its own people by people who have no idea of its daily problems?” he says.

That resident, to the profound dismay of his daughter, and likely to millions of “Mockingbird” readers, is Atticus Finch.

“First Woody Allen, then Bill Cosby, now Atticus Finch,” tweeted New Republic senior editor Herr Jeet, responding to early reports about the book. “You can’t trust anyone anymore.”

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, Atticus risks his physical safety to defend a black man accused of rape. He invokes the Declaration of Independence during the trial and argues for the sanctity of the legal system. Privately, he wonders why “reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up.”

“I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough,” he says, referring to Jean Louise and her older brother.

In “Go Set a Watchman,” a 72-year-old Atticus laments the Supreme Court ruling and invokes the supposed horrors of Reconstruction as he imagines “state governments run by people who don’t know how to run ‘em.”

A tearful Scout tells the man she worshipped growing up: “You’re the only person I’ve ever fully trusted and now I’m done for.”

Lee’s attorney, Tonja Carter, said she discovered the book last year. It has been called by Amazon.com its most popular pre-order since the last Harry Potter story.  Anticipating fierce resistance to the portrayal of Atticus, publisher HarperCollins issued a statement late Friday.

“The question of Atticus’s racism is one of the most important and critical elements in this novel, and it should be considered in the context of the book’s broader moral themes,” the statement reads.

“’Go Set a Watchman’ explores racism and changing attitudes in the South during the 1950s in a bold and unflinching way.”

Lee is 89, living in an assisted facility in her native Monroeville, Alabama, and has not spoken to the media in decades. In a statement issued in February, when her publisher stunned the world by announcing a second Lee novel was coming, she noted that “Watchman” was the original story.

“My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout,” she said.

HarperCollins has said “Watchman” is unaltered from Lee’s initial draft.

The current book will certainly raise questions, only some of which only Lee can answer. Why did she approve the book’s release after seemingly accepting, even welcoming, the fact that “Mockingbird” would be her only novel?  How well does she remember its contents? Did her editor resist because of its political content? How autobiographical is “Watchman,” which roughly follows the path of Lee’s life in the 1950s? Does she consider the Atticus of “Watchman” more “real” than the courageous attorney of “Mockingbird”?

And how surprised should any of us be?

Atticus is hardly the only old man to fear change, or seemingly enlightened white to reveal common prejudices. Around the time Lee was working on “Watchman,” an essay by Nobel laureate William Faulkner was published in Life magazine. Faulkner had long been considered a moderate on race, praised for novels that challenged the South to confront its past. But in “A Letter to the North,” he sounds like Atticus as he considers the impact of the Supreme Court ruling.

“I have been on record as opposing the forces in my native country which would keep the condition out of which this present evil and trouble has grown. Now I must go on record as opposing the forces outside the South which would use legal or police compulsion to eradicate that evil overnight,” he wrote.

“I was against compulsory segregation. I am just as strongly against compulsory integration. … So I would say to the NAACP and all the organizations who would compel immediate and unconditional integration ‘Go slow now. Stop now for a time, a moment.’”

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ author Harper Lee to have second novel published — 50 years later

To Kill a Mockingbird will not be Harper Lee’s only published book after all.

Publisher Harper announced that Go Set a Watchman, a novel the Pulitzer Prize-winning author completed in the 1950s and put aside, will be released July 14. Rediscovered last fall, Go Set a Watchman is essentially a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, although it was finished earlier.

Reactions ranged from euphoria (Oprah Winfrey issued a statement saying, “I couldn’t be happier if my name was Scout”) to skepticism about Lee’s cooperation and about the quality of the new book. Biographer Charles J. Shields noted that Lee was a “beginning author” when she wrote Watchman.

The 304-page book will be Lee’s second, and her first new work in print in more than 50 years, among the longest gaps in history for a major writer.

“In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman,” the 88-year-old Lee said in a statement issued by Harper. “It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became To Kill a Mockingbird) from the point of view of the young Scout.

“I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized it (the original book) had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal was negotiated between Carter and the head of Harper’s parent company, Michael Morrison of HarperCollins Publishers. Watchman will be published in the United Kingdom by William Heinemann, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Lee lives in an assisted living center in her hometown of Monroeville, the real-life model for the fictional town of Maycomb of To Kill A Mockingbird. A longtime friend said she is deaf, blind and in poor health, spending much of her time in a wheelchair. She was last seen publicly in November at the funeral of her older sister, Alice Lee, who long represented the author and was known for being protective of her.

Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham acknowledged that the publisher had had no direct conversations with Harper Lee, but communicated through Carter and literary agent Andrew Nurnburg.

Burnham said during a telephone interview that he had known both Carter and Nurnburg for years and was “completely confident” Lee was fully involved in the decision to release the book.

“We’ve had a great deal of communication with Andrew and Tonja,” said Burnham, adding that Nurnburg had met with her recently and found her “feisty and in very fine spirits.”

Jillian Schultz, who operates a gift and home shop on Monroeville’s town square, said she has read Mockingbird about 20 times and looks forward to the sequel.

But, like others, Schultz has questions about the long delay between the publications.

“I was really surprised,” said Schultz, 28. “You know there’s a lot of controversy about whether Harper Lee actually wrote the (first) book. There’s been so many years in between, and you have to wonder, ‘How did somebody forget about a book?'”

Ginger Brookover lives in northern West Virginia and was making her second trip to Monroeville because of Mockingbird. She texted a friend after learning that a second book by Lee will be released.

“I’m just absolutely shaking,” Brookover said.

According to publisher Harper, Carter came upon the manuscript at a “secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird.” The new book is set in Maycomb during the mid-1950s, 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird and roughly contemporaneous with the time that Lee was writing the story. The civil rights movement was taking hold in her home state. The Supreme Court had ruled unanimously in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 led to the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott.

“Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus,” the publisher’s announcement reads. “She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”

Lee herself lived in New York in the 1950s and returned to her hometown. According to the publisher, the book will be released as she first wrote it, with no revisions.

By Tuesday afternoon, Watchman was in the top 10 on barnesandnoble.com, representing a flood of preorders in just a few hours. The publisher plans a first printing of 2 million copies, on a par with a novel by John Grisham or Stephen King but fewer than were printed for later books in the Harry Potter series.

Shields, whose Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee came out in 2006, said that Mockingbird had required extensive editing and doubted that “Watchman” has “the tight structure” of her other book.

“But if we have any of her voice, her compassion for people and her message about understanding the other in there, we’ll have a very fine work,” Shields said.

To Kill a Mockingbird is among the most beloved novels in history, with worldwide sales topping 40 million copies. It was released on July 11, 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a 1962 movie of the same name, starring Gregory Peck in an Oscar-winning performance as the courageous attorney Atticus Finch. Robert Duvall, who played the reclusive Boo Radley in the movie, issued a statement  saying that the film was a “pivotal point” for him and he was looking forward to the new book.

Although occasionally banned over the years because of its language and racial themes, Mockingbird has become a standard for reading clubs and middle schools and high schools. The absence of any other books from Lee only seemed to enhance the appeal of Mockingbird.

Lee’s publisher said the author is unlikely to do any publicity for the book. She has rarely spoken to the media since the 1960s, when she told one reporter that she wanted to “to leave some record of small-town, middle-class Southern life.” Until now, To Kill a Mockingbird had been the sole fulfillment of that goal, although Lee has said the one book was good enough.

“This is a remarkable literary event,” Burnham said in a statement. “The existence of Go Set a Watchman was unknown until recently, and its discovery is an extraordinary gift to the many readers and fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading in many ways like a sequel to Harper Lee’s classic novel, it is a compelling and ultimately moving narrative about a father and a daughter’s relationship, and the life of a small Alabama town living through the racial tensions of the 1950s.”

The new book also will be available in an electronic edition. Lee has openly stated her preference for paper, but surprised fans last year by agreeing to allow Mockingbird to be released as an e-book.