Avid readers all over the country have been talking about Alabama author Harper Lee’s newly published book, Go Set a Watchman. The book, intended to be a sequel to Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, is supposed to be a sequel to the 1960 classic, but was actually written first.
Some writers mentioned in reviews in the New York Times and AL.com that Lee fans shouldn’t get their hopes up about Watchman, as beloved character Atticus Finch from Mockingbird is portrayed as a racist in the new book. Atticus is said to be a member of the White Citizens’ Council and that he has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
Regardless of the speculation about where Lee is taking her characters, Bloomberg reported that Lee’s new book is the most preordered one in publishing company HarperCollins’ history. (It even beat out the final Hunger Games and the last Game of Thrones installment.)
Go Set a Watchman was officially released in select locations at midnight, including at the Books-A-Million in Brookwood. A small crowd attended, and eager customers walked around with their free 16-oz drink from the stand upstairs while waiting for the books to be set out for the public.
UAB Creative Writing Professor Kerry Madden has previously written a biography about Lee, and was one of the Books-A-Million customers anxiously waiting to purchase a copy. She says she hasn’t necessarily listened to the reviews and wants to decide about the book for herself.
“I don’t expect it to be To Kill a Mockingbird,” she says, “I expect it to be about how a writer finds her voice and I think we’ll get to see that.”
Conley Easter was also a customer awaiting his copy of the book. He too says he hasn’t paid reviews any attention.
“I’ve actually avoided reading anything about the book,” he says, “I want to be completely surprised and let the work stand on its own.”
Not everyone in attendance at Books-A-Million was as optimistic.
Long-time Harper Lee fan Kyrsten Matthews says she has grown up with the To Kill
a Mockingbird book and movie, and hopes the new book does nothing to ruin the earlier story.
“Atticus has always been one of my favorite characters,” she says, “And it’s probably going to be sad if it turns out that he’s racist.”
Another To Kill a Mockingbird fan, K. Ford, was also in attendance at Books-A-Million. He says, while it would be disappointing to see a loved character portrayed in this way, he hopes it will provide some chances for character depth and development, and some context for what changed Atticus between the first book and its pre-sequel.
“From what I understand, this is kind of the prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird,” he says, “So I’m hoping we can see Atticus before the change and what caused him to be the man he was in the second book.”
Go Set a Watchman is now available for purchase in most bookstores, in both audio and print.