Mixed reviews, mega sales: Looking back at 'Go Set A Watchman'

Last year, Harper Lee published her second book, "Go Set A Watchman." Though it was greeted with mixed reviews, it became an overnight bestseller.

See Full Article

Here is what The Associated Press wrote about the book in advance of its publication in July:

Like her classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," the Harper Lee novel coming out Tuesday 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 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 Jeet Heer, 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."'


Latest Entertainment News

  • Lady Gaga jumps in for 'Carpool Karaoke' with James Corden

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    There were no wild costumes or caution tape - or at least, not on Lady Gaga. The singer was the latest artist to ride shotgun with Late Late Show host James Corden on Carpool Karaoke. The 30-year-old songstress donned a glittery gold blouse (pussy bow and all) as she sang her new hit 'Perfect Illusion' and some classic Gaga like Bad Romance, complete of course, with the monster claws. Source
  • Justin Timberlake in hot water after posting ballot box selfie

    Entertainment CTV News
    MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Justin Timberlake flew from California to Tennessee in order to vote early, and state officials say that's great - but he shouldn't have taken a selfie at the ballot box. The singer posted a picture of himself at the voting booth on Instagram Monday , noting that if he could make that effort, then there are "No excuses, my good people!" Source
  • Brad Pitt 'safety plan' investigation extended

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    An investigation into Brad Pitt’s parenting skills has been extended by officials at California’s Department of Child and Family Services. The voluntary “safety plan” was implemented last month, shortly after Pitt’s wife Angelina Jolie filed for divorce amid reports the actor had been abusive on a family plane ride. Source
  • Missing backup dancer for Rihanna found safe

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Shirlene Quigley, a 32-year-old backup dancer who has worked with stars like Beyoncé , Rihanna, and Missy Elliott, is missing. Rihanna posted a video of Quigley on Instagram Monday, asking fans and followers to contact the Bergen County Police Department in New Jersey with any useful information on her whereabouts. Source
  • Woman sues Michael Jackson estate for alleged molestation 30 years ago

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    An unnamed woman has filed a new lawsuit against Michael Jackson, accusing the late King of Pop of molesting her three decades ago. The woman claims the Thriller singer started abusing her in 1986 after inviting her and her mother inside the Jackson family compound in Encino, California while they were star spotting. Source
  • Toddler's Gord Downie Halloween costume goes viral

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    A photo of a toddler dressed as Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie is making its rounds on social media. And he just won Halloween, according to everyone. If you haven’t figured out your Halloween costume plans just yet, take note. Source
  • These two ladies fell in love on The Bachelor: Their romantic story

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    They both didn’t get roses on the Australian version of The Bachelor, instead they found each other. Megan Marx and Tiffany Scanlon were two of the 25 contestants battling for the love and attention of one lucky bachelor, male model Richie Straham. Source
  • Paul Beatty beats 2 Canadians to win Man Booker Prize for 'The Sellout'

    Entertainment CTV News
    LONDON -- Paul Beatty has won the Man Booker Prize for fiction for "The Sellout." He is the first American novelist to take the prestigious literary award. Judges said Beatty's provocative book, a stinging satire of race and class in the United States, was as timely as the evening news. Source
  • Paul Beatty beats 2 Canadians to win Man Booker Prize for 'The Sellout Man'

    Entertainment CTV News
    LONDON -- Paul Beatty has won the Man Booker Prize for fiction for "The Sellout Man." He is the first American novelist to take the prestigious literary award. Judges said Beatty's provocative book, a stinging satire of race and class in the United States, was as timely as the evening news. Source