Prather’s Pick: Harper Lee’s new novel — Part 1

Diane Prather
Diane Prather

“Go Set a Watchman”, a new novel by Harper Lee, hit the bookshelves July 14. Everybody’s talking about the novel because Lee hasn’t had a book published since she wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird” about 1960. Even more amazing, she wrote the manuscript for her new book way back in the 50s. When it wasn’t picked up by a publisher, she set it aside and wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was a bestseller. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961 and became a movie that was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The movie received three of the awards, one of them by Gregory Peck for Best Actor.

Meanwhile, the manuscript for “Go Set a Watchman” remained set aside. Then, in November 2014 when Lee’s sister, Alice, died at age 103, a lawyer found the book while going through Alice’s things. “Go Set a Watchman” was published. Amazingly, it is a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The other day I purchased the new novel, and when I was getting ready to go through the checkout line to pay for the book, I spotted what I thought to be a magazine on a display rack. The cover caught my eye because it was a photo of Gregory Peck reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It turned out to be a LIFE Book: “The Enduring Power of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’” So I bought it, too, hoping that it would help me remember Lee’s first published novel. It’s been a long time since I’ve read “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The LIFE Book was all that I’d hoped for and more. I read it cover to cover, and then I decided to write about it in this column and write a review of “Go Set a Watchman” in the next one.

The LIFE Book is packed with information. For example, I learned that Harper Lee’s full name is Nelle Harper Lee, but Nelle was dropped for publication reasons. Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama, where her father was a country lawyer. As a child, Lee often went to the courthouse and watched her father practice law.

One of the town’s residents was Truman Streckfus Persons, a boy who became Lee’s lifetime friend. He also became an author and published his novels under the name of Truman Capote. A reproduced, handwritten letter, signed “T,” makes up the end papers of the LIFE Book.

In a foreword to the LIFE Book, “The Story Behind the Story,” Melissa Fay Greene writes a detailed discussion of “To Kill a Mockingbird” which reminds readers of the novel’s characters, setting and plot. It’s helpful, indeed, before reading “Go Set a Watchman” as many of the characters are the same. Scout, the nine-year-old girl is twenty-six in the newest novel, and she is returning to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her father, Atticus Finch.

The LIFE Book also has information about “Nelle; The Woman Who Wrote the Books,” the making of the “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie, “Mockingbird’s Legacy,” and Harper Lee today. There are striking photographs and lots of information in their captions. It’s a great read.

This LIFE Book costs about $13.99, and you can probably find it at most stores. I found it at City Market.

Next week: “Go Set a Watchman.”

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