Thursday, February 5, 2015

Legacies and Buried Treasure

Book lovers from the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters felt an instantly glorious feeling overwhelm them on Tuesday morning when the news broke that Harper Lee had written a second book that would be published this summer.

I retweeted the news the instant I saw it in my stream, along with the simple comment: WHOA. Because what better way to show respect for Harper Lee than to quote Keanu Reeves?

Who in their literate right mind doesn't want to read a second book by one of the most beloved authors of the 20th Century?

Less than a day later, the tide had already begun to turn. Suspicion supplanted euphoria as literati and those better in the know began to place this announcement on the timeline. Six months after Ms. Lee's sister -- her closest confidante, her protector, her attorney ("Atticus in a dress") -- died, this book is "discovered." Six months after the death of the one person whom Harper Lee trusted to make decisions in her best interests, Harper Lee makes a public announcement about how thrilled she is with this exciting change in plans. And, apparently, Harper Lee is excited even though most information suggests she's all but clueless to the world.

Everything smells fishy because it's probably fishy. Harper Lee is probably beyond reason. This release is probably opposed to her wishes at a time when her faculties were with her. This book might never have seen the light of day for dozens of reasons we'll never know.

"Go Set a Watchman" is being released without her of-sound-mind approval. We really should respect the wishes of those we love or respect (or, if we're being honest, those we don't love and don't respect).

Except we have a long and cherished history of not respecting our beloved artists and writers. Libraries across the world preserve letters written from great writers and leaders. Personal letters that, in 98 percent of circumstances were meant to be read by a single pair of eyes on the planet, are dissected by graduate students and researchers ad nauseam.

Should Harper Lee's buried treasure of a novel be any different just because she is still alive, albeit with questionable faculties? If she doesn't really get what is happening, what is the harm in it happening when we've done this with other greats over the centuries?

This book will not, cannot possibly, destroy the legacy of "To Kill a Mockingbird." 

This book will either elevate Harper Lee to a higher status, or it will merely remind us of the lightning she caught in a bottle, this shimmering brilliance of words and story that surged through her for a short time, the electricity of which continues to power cities' worth of young and old minds.

Barring the kinds of bad reviews that sank Battlefield Earth, I will buy her "second but really first" book, and I will read it. Even if Harper Lee never wanted me to, I will feel compelled to do so, because it's an historic moment for a book lover. And it can't possibly be worse than Jar Jar Binks and Little Orphan Ani from The Phantom Menace.

The only concern that remains, for me, is where the money will go. Will it go merely to the publisher, or to some greedy lawyer or distant relative? Or will the money go to a greater good? The townsfolk of her birth, or a cause or organization Ms. Lee would celebrate? Hopefully the coming months will allow reporters to investigate this important detail, because rest assured, we're looking at a book certain to break any sales records from the last year, possibly the last decade.


troutking said...

I agree with you. If it's good, wonderful. If it's not, it will quickly be forgotten. TKAM and Harper Lee's place is secure.

Bob said...

If nothing else, it will kill the rumor that Capote wrote the other book. I'm interested, though I probably won't buy it or read it. Just because a publisher once rejected it has no bearing on its potential quality--plenty of well thought of books were rejected countless times.

Tockstar said...

I have good news from an inside source (a long-time Monroeville resident): Ms. Lee was always going to have the second book published, but the intent was for it to be posthumous. So, while there's still a degree of the sketchy about the whole thing, the world apparently would have met Go Set a Watchman someday.