What is left to say about Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman? In the five months since the “discovery” and planned publication of the manuscript was announced, countless pages and social media streams have been dedicated to debates over the 89-year-old author’s agency in the decision and discussions of what the book, written as an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird but set some 20 years later, might reveal about some of literature’s most beloved characters.
Well, the book is out now, and it turns out there's still plenty to talk about. Our first reaction, without spoilers: Watchman is a messier and more complicated story than To Kill a Mockingbird, both in its themes and its execution. Which is to be expected for a basically unedited manuscript that Lee herself reportedly described as "a parent" to the classic, and also for a story that took on heavy racial topics as they were unfolding. Readers who pick up Watchman with this in mind will find it a fascinating and thought-provoking look into the development of a modern classic—and the characters it featured.
Watchman has insightful things to say about seeing the places and the people we come from for who they are and not what we want them to be, and though it was written years ago, the debates it frames about race, state's rights and the 10th amendment have resonance today. Though it is marred by some underdeveloped plot lines and occasionally uneven pacing, the characters and subject matter are rich. With the sort of editorial guidance that Mockingbird reportedly received, it might have been an equally enduring classic.
Despite the novel's shortcomings (and potential disappointments for Atticus acolytes) there is plenty to enjoy. The feelings Scout—or Jean Louise, as she's known these days—has upon her return to Maycomb will ring true to anyone who's ever come home after time away and seen it differently. And Lee's talent for capturing the small-town South is on full display in many little moments, like Jean Louise's observation about the "Coffees" given for girls who came home: "Such girls were placed on view at 10:30 am for the express purpose of allowing the women of their age who had remained enisled in Maycomb to examine them. Childhood friendships were rarely renewed under such conditions."
Check out these other early takes from around the web (warning: most include spoilers).
The first look from al.com explores the themes and lessons of Watchman
Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times takes a dim view of the changes to Atticus
The Guardian separates Watchman from Mockingbird for a more even-handed discussion
The Telegraph wonders if the book should have stayed in the deposit box
The Wall Street Journal leads with Atticus' defense of Jim Crow
NPR says it's a mess
Bonus: See the BookPage crew with our copies on Instagram.
Are you reading GSAW today?
We're just five days away from the release of Go Set a Watchman, and even though its strict on-sale date applies (no ARCs here, we're afraid), tantalizing tidbits from early readers are starting to leak out. The rumor that readers of Watchman will see Atticus in a different light has just been confirmed by one of our most trusted literary sources, who went on to say that the novel was much more adult and political than Mockingbird. (This makes sense: It does take place 20 years after the events of Mockingbird, after all.)
Doubtless some Atticus and Mockingbird fans will not be thrilled with these developments, but Watchman being more than a sentimental trip down memory lane makes it far more interesting to me—think Wide Sargasso Sea vs. Scarlett.
HarperCollins will release Chapter One of the novel tomorrow, for fans who just can't wait until Tuesday. Find details on that here.
Will you be reading Watchman next week?
Have you heard the good news, romance lovers? The legendary Lisa Kleypas is returning to her original bread and butter: historical romance.
It's a homecoming for Kleypas, who will be returning to her original publisher, Avon, as well. In a press release, Kleypas says, "As I know from past experience, everyone at Avon Books brings the highest level of passion and commitment to the romance genre, so I'm thankful—and excited!—to be part of Avon's future. Without a doubt, our best work is ahead of us." Kleypas signed a seven-book deal with Avon, so rest assured that you'll get your Kleypas fix.
The romance community is already buzzing about her first new historical, Cold-Hearted Rake, despite the fact that it won't be available until late October. Cold-Hearted Rake is set in Victorian England and follows a devilish man and the young widow who steals his heart. When Devon Ravenel inherits an earldom, he also inherits a few unexpected responsibilities—chief among them is the burden of looking after the late Earl's three sisters. However, the beautiful Lady Kathleen Trenear slowly becomes less of a burden and more of a pleasure.
But don't worry, contemporary lovers! Kleypas will release the fourth novel in her Texas Travis series, Brown-Eyed Girl, in August with St. Martin's.
Are you excited about Kleypas' historical romance return?
Today's new paperback releases range from a captivating novel about the recent past to a frightening portrait of our possible future.
By Jane Smiley
Anchor • $15.95 • ISBN 9780307744807
With this volume, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author launches a trilogy that will follow the members of one Iowa family for 100 years, with each chapter covering a single year. Capturing the rhythms of life, the pull of family and the hardships of farming, Smiley's luminous first entry in the series ranked #2 on our list of the Best Books of 2014.
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
By Susan Jane Gilman
Grand Central • $15 • ISBN 9780446696944
The first work of fiction from the author of Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven (2009) and two other best-selling memoirs is a rich historical novel about a Russian immigrant who uses all her charms (and wiles) to become a successful entrepreneur in America. The paperback includes a reading group guide.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman
By Jill Lepore
Vintage • $16.95 • ISBN 9780804173407
Researching the private papers of Wonder Woman's creator, William Moulton Marston, the New Yorker staff writer and Harvard historian uncovered evidence of Marston's highly unusual family life. The paperback includes an afterword with new disclosures.
By Amy Bloom
Random House • $16 • ISBN 9780812978940
A bestseller in hardcover, Bloom's distinctly American story of two half-sisters on a riotous road trip to Hollywood was named one of the best novels of 2014 by the Washington Post. The paperback includes a reader's guide.
Season of the Dragonflies
By Sarah Creech
Morrow • $14.99 • ISBN 9780062307538
Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Creech's enchanting debut follows the fortunes of the Lenore family, known for creating a much sought-after perfume with special powers. The paperback includes a reading group guide.
By Edan Lepucki
Back Bay • $16 • ISBN 9780316250832
Lepucki's post-apocalyptic debut novel became a cause célèbre almost by accident when it happened to hit the market last summer just as Hachette's battle with Amazon was heating up. Used by Stephen Colbert as the centerpiece of a protest against the online bookselling giant, the book drew readers who might otherwise have overlooked this disturbing look at one couple trying to survive in the wilderness after fleeing L.A. The paperback includes a reading group guide.
Searching for something to read during the holiday weekend ahead? Here are our picks of the best new paperbacks on sale this week:
When the United States Spoke French
By François Furstenberg
Penguin • $20 • ISBN 9780143127451
While you're celebrating the U.S.A.'s 239th birthday, take a look back at the early years of the young republic, when five prominent Frenchmen settled in Philadelphia and became active participants in the life of the city and the new nation. Described by Booklist as "a fine combination of social and political history," Furstenberg's narrative was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize.
How to Build a Girl
By Caitlin Moran
Harper Perennial • $15.95 • ISBN 9780062335982
The rowdy first novel from the author of the best-selling feminist memoir/manifesto How to Be a Woman borrows events from Moran's own improbable life story, including her experiences as a teen critic for a British music magazine. The novel was a #1 bestseller in the U.K. and is the first in a planned trilogy.
How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky
By Lydia Netzer
St. Martin’s Griffin • $15.99 • ISBN 9781250047465
Is our destiny written in the stars? Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine, creatively explores this question and other conundrums in the touching story of George and Irene, two quirky astronomers in Toledo who were meant to be together.
By David Nicholls
Harper • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062365590
Chosen by BookPage editors as one of the Best Books of 2014, Nicholls' novel captures the plight of a mild-mannered British scientist trying to hold his marriage and his family together with a last-gasp European vacation.
The Book of Strange New Things
By Michel Faber
Hogarth • $17 • ISBN 9780553418866
The author of the best-selling Victorian novel The Crimson Petal and the White explores faith and commitment in this far-future story of a Christian missionary sent to evangelize the residents of a distant planet. Meanwhile, back on Earth, his marriage and his planet appear to be falling apart.
The Happiest People in the World
By Brock Clarke
Algonquin • $15.95 • ISBN 9781616204792
Hilarious but urgently topical, Clarke's fourth novel follows the adventures of a bumbling Danish cartoonist forced to assume a new identity as a high school guidance counselor in upstate New York after his drawing of the prophet Muhammad evokes a firestorm.
Remember the Jane Austen Project? (We're still waiting for Curtis Sittenfeld's take on P&P!) Well, Hogarth Books is launching a similar project this fall, and if you thought taking on Austen could be daunting for a writer, imagine how it must feel to try to reimagine Shakespeare.
Jeanette Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) is the first to take on this challenge in The Gap of Time, publishing on October 6. She's putting a spin on A Winter's Tale, one of the Bard's later and lesser-known plays, which tells the story of a king who banishes his baby daughter and is later reunited with her.
In Winterson's version, set in London after the 2008 financial crisis, the banished baby washes up on American shores before wending her way home. According to Hogarth, "Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other."
Will you read it? Or will your Norton Shakespeare have to be pried out of your cold, dead hands first? (If the latter, definitely do not click here.)
RELATED CONTENT: Read more about this year's fall fiction releases.
This week's new paperback selections offer several summer-reading-worthy options:
By Nick Harkaway
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780804170666
In the latest smart science fiction from the author of The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, Sergeant Lester Ferris is determined to serve out the remainder of his career quietly in the former British colony of Mancreu. But his plans change after he meets a boy obsessed with comic-book heroes.
North of Normal
By Cea Sunrise Person
Harper • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062289872
Person's success as an international model came despite a most unusual childhood. For more than a decade, she and members of her extended family lived way, way off the grid in the forests of Canada, combining a groovy, free-love lifestyle with sometimes bleak subsistence living. The paperback edition of this compelling memoir includes a list of discussion questions.
By Susan Vreeland
Random House • $16 • ISBN 9780812980196
Although she's unhappy about leaving Paris in 1937 for a remote village in the south of France to care for her husband's grandfather, Lisette learns more than she expected about both art and life. For book clubs that like to pair a themed dinner with a reading selection, Vreeland's luminous historical novel offers many delicious possibilities: The reading group guide includes a list of all the Provençal dishes mentioned in the book (the Cassoulet Béarnais sounds especially tempting).
By Rebecca Rasmussen
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780345806710
Coming in at #43 on the BookPage list of Best Books of 2014, Rasmussen's quietly powerful second novel opens in the wilds of Minnesota, where Eveline and her new husband Emil settle in a remote cabin. But when Emil is called away, their lives take a tragic turn that will echo through the next generation.
By Laura Lane McNeal
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9780143127499
Set in the summer of 1964, McNeal's engaging debut brings Civil Rights-era New Orleans to life with the story of 11-year-old Ibby Bell, who is unceremoniously dumped at the rundown Garden District mansion of her eccentric grandmother. The novel, which drew critical praise for its convincing characters and evocative setting, has been compared to Southern dramas such as The Help and The Secret Life of Bees.
Dear Committee Members
By Julie Schumacher
Anchor • $14.95 • ISBN 9780345807335
Schumacher’s hilarious—and, at times, poignant—sendup of academia is presented in its entirety through letters of recommendation written by Jason T. Fitger, a stressed-out professor of English and creative writing at the aptly named “Payne University.” This clever satire was ranked as one of 2014's best books by NPR and the Boston Globe.
E L James surprised everyone by announcing on June 1 that she would be publishing a new Fifty Shades novel titled Grey within the month. The novel tells the story of Fifty Shades of Grey from the perspective of Christian Grey, and the pub day is here! The first reviews are in, and they are hilariously entertaining. I'm on page nine of this book, and I have been unable to stop laughing and reading the best lines aloud in the office (sorry, everyone in the office). In my opinion, and apparently many others, Christian Grey's inner monologue is kind of horrifying.
Here are links to some of the best early coverage of Grey:
And I'll leave you with my favorite non-explicit quote from the chapter I've read. Here is Christian answering Anastasia's fascinating question about why he invests in manufacturing:
"I have a love of ships. What can I say?" They transport food around the planet.
Indeed! What can you say. Ships: They transport food around the planet.
Are you planning on reading the latest from James?
The fall publishing season isn't confined to September and October anymore—big-name authors are spreading out into August and November as well. John Irving is one of them: Avenue of Mysteries (S&S) will go on sale November 3.
Described by S&S publisher Jonathan Karp as reminiscent of the classic A Prayer for Owen Meany, Avenue of Mysteries follows an older man, Juan Diego, who is on a trip to the Phillippines. But this late-in-life adventure inspires memories of his childhood and young adulthood in Mexico rather than sparking any new ones—until his past and present become intertwined in a surprising way.
Will you read it?
RELATED CONTENT: Read more about this year's fall fiction releases.
British author William Boyd returns this fall with his most sweeping, ambitious work since 2002's Any Human Heart. Sweet Caress, which Bloomsbury will publish in the USA on September 15, tells the story of the 20th century through the eyes of a remarkable female photographer, Amory Clay, born in 1908.
The novel is punctuated by authentic vintage photos, chosen by Boyd from thousands of images found in "junk shops, estate sales and the like," according to his publicist, Summer Smith. These images make the story feel even more real—blurring the line between fiction and reality.
Anyone else looking forward to this one?
RELATED CONTENT: Read more about this year's fall fiction releases.