I’m conflicted about Go Set a Watchman. It sets on my nightstand at home, as yet untouched. I still believe that Harper Lee, her sister, and her editor never wanted to publish it. They had ample opportunity to do so and chose not to, for reasons we will never completely understand.
Yet, the opportunity to read Harper Lee’s first book is too tempting. Some refer to it as a draft. I beg to differ. In 1957, she gave the manuscript of Watchman to her agent to shop with publishers. Granted, it may not have been print ready, but to me, that qualifies as a finished product in the mind of a writer, especially for fiction and a first-time author.
Lippincott bought it, and when they assigned it to editor Tay Hohoff, the journey began. Hohoff, who developed a close personal relationship with Lee, thought that it wasn’t ready for prime time. Working closely with her client and friend, she convinced the young Lee to reset the time period twenty years earlier, and shape it into a coming of age story. The rest, as they say, is history, and three years and many revisions later, To Kill a Mockingbird was published.
So, to me, Watchman is much more than the first draft of Mockingbird. Certainly, it evolved into that beloved story, but it’s not unusual for a writer’s first story or stories to remain unpublished or serve as a springboard to subsequent works. I heard Michael Connelly, one of my favorite contemporary writers, speak earlier this year. When asked about his first book, he said, “My first three novels will never see the light of day.” His first published novel was actually his fourth book.
I look forward to curling up with a real book, not some electronic facsimile. And the fact that it was a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist’s first novel makes it even more exciting. I will read it with the utmost respect and gratitude for this glimpse into the world of a truly gifted writer. It will never diminish my appreciation for her talent and the incredible story of To Kill a Mockingbird.