Squeezing the Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s phenomenal book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was published more than fifty years back and has sold somewhere between thirty to forty million copies. The book has been read over and over again by readers who may have read it for the first time in school but found that they couldn’t stop reading it afterwards; enjoying it better at each age. It has been mandatory reading in many school syllabuses and in some way formed the understanding of human rights, in the minds of generations of teenagers through the character of Atticus Finch.

No other book was written by Ms. Lee afterwards who has remained a reclusive figure all her life. She apparently said that she had said whatever she had to. And where was the need for another book when the one book had incomparable impact.

So after all this time when a manuscript for a sequel to Mockingbird, actually written before it, was found in her locker, her publishers decided to persuade Harper Lee, now in her nineties, to publish it. Whether it was a good idea or not has been debated by the reviewers and media endlessly in the last few weeks. Whether Ms. Lee herself had much of a say in the matter has also been debated. But we are just readers who love Mockingbird and are wondering whether we want to read ‘Go Set a Watchman’.

PS: Despite all the propaganda in the guise of publicity, it is very obviously a money making exercise. First drafts of even very successful books are shelved for a reason.

LL: It’s not like these days when everyone is writing books in a few months and the first draft is publishable. Earlier, writers would go through various drafts, the story sometimes undergoing a drastic change during the course of writing.

PS: And the publishers also were much more interested in the story being published. It seems that when Harper Lee first submitted Watchman, her publisher told her to re write it concentrating on the court case mentioned.

LL: And isn’t it wonderful that she listened to the publisher and wrote Mockingbird. Today’s writers may have just said “What does the publisher know? I will self-publish since I have to promote the book myself anyway”.

PS: Well, what do the publishers know? Today they have published a book which was not considered good enough fifty five years ago and in the process demolished a hero.

LL: I think that is why the information about Atticus in the new book being racist was released in advance by the publishers, without any spoiler alerts, because they wanted to avoid a backlash.

PS: They also released the info about Jem having died. It seems the readers are not to be left with the few good men. So I don’t know if I can bring myself to read it.

LL: I don’t think I will.

PS: Unless we read it as a story set in a parallel universe, as someone suggested.

These days people don’t kill mockingbirds, they just squeeze them till the last squawk and gasp, without worrying about whether the sound is tuneful or not.

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