Some Advice about Harper Lee’s new work: “Go, READ A Watchman”

Six years ago, around the 50th Anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, I wrote a collection TMPof reflections about the characters of Lee’s novel titled The Mockingbird Parables… It was not an academic reading of her novel – more a celebration of the qualities her rich stories have to teach us about courage, compassion, communication, and, yes, even church.

If it tells you anything about my feelings for the novel and the movie, I’m one of those folks who will at times ask myself the question, “what would Atticus do in this situation?”

So, of course, I was horrified at early reviews of Lee’s newly released novel proclaiming Atticus Finch a racist.

(I am afraid the very publication of Watchman has authors everywhere hurrying to burn old drafts of their manuscripts!)

As a HUGE fan of Atticus Finch, someone who has written op-eds for Huffington Post, Christianity Today, CNN about the importance of Lee’s Mockingbird characters, I want to encourage you to do one thing for me: READ HARPER LEE’S NEW NOVEL.

That’s right. Pick up a copy and read it. Here are three good reasons why you should:

First, there are far too many books trashed or critiqued without ever actually being read. That’s right – here is a dirty little secret: sometimes book reviewers, publicists, and news anchors never actually read what they are reporting on! The last time I was warned away from a book, well, it ended up being one of my all-time favorites! So, run out, pick up a copy and decide for yourself.

Second, we need to appreciate Go, Set a Watchman for what it is: a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. I had an editor once look at a scene I had written and tell me “I think that would be REALLY interesting told from another point of view” and you know what? She was right! It changed the chapter completely! Harper Lee likely never intended for this draft to be on the shelf – so enjoy it for what it truly is – a look inside the wonderful author’s first imaginings of a story we love.

Finally, Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird simply doesn’t get the credit it deserves for its commentary on church-life in America. Lee’s characters and funny stories from the Bible belt really helped shaped the way I viewed church. One of her characters laments: “There are some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” Lines like this one and many others have always helped me understand what I can do better as a member of the church while also helping protect my faith on the many occasions when I have watched Church culture get things wrong. I am anxious to see what wisdom Lee may have to offer us about life in Watchman (the title, curiously, is taken from a verse in the Old Testament book of Isaiah).

Whatever you do: I encourage you, above all else, not to be swayed by reviews and early opinions. Get a copy; make your own decision, go, read Watchman for yourself!





4 thoughts on “Some Advice about Harper Lee’s new work: “Go, READ A Watchman”

  1. looking forward to your review. one review said if characters and thesis had been more developed it would have been an excellent book. on the other hand didn’t come close to kill a mockingbird because she must have a terrific editor for the complete rewrite. so where do you see it!!!

    1. I loved it! I am stuck between believing it was a first draft – as the story goes – and believing that Harper Lee wrote it in response to all of the Atticus worship that ensued… I guess we will never know. I thought that she did a wonderful job of showing how good can still come through the ugliest parts of humanity through her portrayal of Atticus. Hope you enjoy the read, Scott! ~ Matt

      1. matt, i like your take on the possibility go set a watchman was after tkmb rather than before it. gregory peck over shadowed scout in the movie so maybe harper lee was trying to bring atticus down to earth.
        also your book really analyses the characters in tkmb very well. it reinforced my view that tkmb was the best ever. i still have a pit in my stomach that says the go set a watchman unders cuts my idealist view of to tkmb and the reason it was published was for a big money grab. i have read unflattering articles about the lawyer that took alice’s place.
        our book review monday the 31st should be interesting!

  2. matt, i’ve been trying to get wayne flynt’s eulogy titled”atticus inside ourselves”. it was what harper lee wanted. after the eulogy her nephew said,” he delievered the most concise, accurate and fair assessment of tkam i’ve ever heard.”

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