Tag Archives: Harper Lee

“Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

I won’t review this book. That has already been done by practically everyone. Amazon lists 8,318 customer reviews!

The publication history of Watchman is interesting. Harper Lee (now almost 90 years old) had said she never intended to publish another book after To Kill a Mockingbird. For the record, I agree that Mockingbird is one of the best American novels ever written.

Watchman is described as a first draft for To Kill a Mockingbird, and it does have a slightly choppy, anecdotal quality. But I was hooked from the first pages. The characters are so vivid and distinctive! Lee is a wonderful narrator. Some people advised Harper Lee not to publish Watchman because it would somehow detract from the stature of To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t feel that it did.

Watchman has become a favorite of book clubs and discussion groups, at this time when national dialog on race is very intense. What happens when 2015 consciousness is applied to a novel written in the 1950s? If you have participated, please share!

Check my blog entry dated March 12, 2015 for a reminiscence about my first look at To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Book choices in the public schools AND ELSEWHERE – personal history (3)

Two people responded to my last post on this subject (March 10, 2015), using private channels by preference.

From a friend near my age:

“I read Night as a college Freshman in 1964 or 65.  It still haunts me.   It is totally inappropriate for young readers!  I was especially horrified by it because so many of my friends growing up were Jewish and I saw it all in relation to them and their families.   Even though the next generation needs to learn about man’s inhumanity to man in an effort to teach them “Never again”, it needs to be introduced slowly so they can digest the concept.  I still find the Holocaust so terrifying that I have to keep from thinking about it too much.  I often find myself wondering would I have the courage to shelter someone who was threatened by genocide or persecution. I hope I never have to find out.”

That’s FORTY YEARS – a long, long time to remember a book. Teachers and parents, be warned!

From a young adult a few years older than my son, who (if you did the math) was twelve when I questioned assignment of the books Night and Deathwatch.

“I remember reading Deathwatch and wondering why it was a kid’s book, but it didn’t particularly upset me, probably because the good guy won, and in fact he did it without killing the antagonist.  Mostly I remember the hero eating raw lizards.  Funnily enough, I just saw that this is being made into a movie, for the second time apparently. (Apparently Andy Griffith played the bad guy in the first movie, which seems weird to me.) I suppose Deathwatch could have disturbed me if the bad guy won, or succeeded in framing the good guy, as was briefly threatened.

And I guess that goes to your point, kids can be upset by what they read, and I don’t think it’s censorship to question whether a good plan for teaching something and dealing with that exists.  It’s hard to predict, too.  Some of the Greek myths used to scare the hell out of me.”

And a final memory while we are on the topic of who should read what:

I read To Kill a Mockingbird around 1964. I don’t remember whether it was assigned for school, or if my sister brought it home from college. What I remember is that my mother decided that my grandmother should not read it! Gramma was, indeed, a Victorian lady, and I can’t imagine how she would have reacted to it, both in terms of content (rape and racial violence) and in terms of my relative youth (age 14 or so). Gramma was a semi invalid, walking little and with great difficulty. She read everything she could get her hands on. My mother saw her with To Kill a Mockingbird and simply walked up and said “Sorry, I need that book. Alice has to have it for school.” And that was that. Poor Gramma! Back to the Reader’s Digest. The sad thing is that I don’t remember anyone, ever, asking Gramma’s opinion about what she read.