Show of hands: How many of you have never read the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee? A perennial summer/school-year reading book, TKAM has become a staple of contemporary American literature since its publication in 1960, a must-read for anyone looking to learn about the racial tensions permeating the southern United States during the 1930s. Lee’s only novel, the book tells the story of the Finch family: older brother Jem, younger daughter (and narrator) Scout, and their father, Atticus. Set in fictional Maycomb, Alabama (based on Lee’s hometown of Monroeville), attorney Atticus is faced with the task of defending Tom Robinson, an African-American male charged with the rape of young (and white) Mayella Ewell. At the onset, most of the town puts it’s support behind the Ewell family, making the job of Atticus even more difficult. I won’t get into more detail, other than to say this: read this book. Pronto.
Indeed, it is quite easy to obtain a copy of the book – much easier now than it was two years ago. While TKAM is considered a literary classic, many would be surprised to learn that until last year, the book had not been available in ebook format. That all changed when Lee (who, by the way, still is very much alive) won a court battle to reclaim the rights to her masterpiece. Having achieved that victory, the author felt inclined to allow her work to be made available to a wider audience, one that might not have had the opportunity to learn about the racial injustices that affected her upbringing and inspired her novel. In addition, new readers could examine one of the most powerful courtroom scenes in all of literature, not to mention the defining moment: Atticus Finch’s brilliant speech to the court.
As amazing as it was to hear of TKAM becoming an ebook, nothing could prepare us for some truly astounding news: Harper Lee had written a sequel to TKAM before composing TKAM and would be releasing that sequel this summer. Wait…what?? That’s right: Harper Lee officially had shed her label as one-hit wonder. Titled Go Set a Watchman, the story picks up with the now-adult Scout returning to her hometown to visit her famous father.
Some critics of the move, including Slate.com writer Katy Waldman, opine that this is nothing more than a desperate ploy to reignite interest in a struggling publisher. To quash rumors that she had been tricked by publisher HarperCollins into releasing the work, Lee issued a statement noting that she is “alive and kicking and happy as hell” with the anticipation for her “new” book hitting the physical and the digital shelves. In reality, though, we simply need to take Lee at her word and appreciate the fact that we finally will have more of her writing to enjoy. I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on Go Set a Watchman.
Next up: J.D. Salinger and more of Holden Caulfield? You never know…