That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird

So, the biggest news of the week, publishing-wise, is that Nelle Harper Lee, the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will have a new book coming out in mid-July. Go Set a Watchman is supposedly the book Lee submitted before submitting Mockingbird, and follows Scout as an adult, going back to the small town that shaped her. Cassie wrote a beautiful piece about the upcoming release, and asked that I write about my thoughts about the release, and I told her I was scattery (as I am!) but I’d been thinking about it a lot this week. I didn’t think I had it in me to write a whole post about it, but started writing…and here we are.

I’ve talked about this before (probably ad nauseum) but Mockingbird is, most sincerely, one of my favorite and most formative books. I think it’s the same for so many people. We want to be (and hope we are, deep down) Atticus; we identify with tough little scrappy Scout; our collective hearts break for Boo. Some of the most beautiful lines in literature come from the book…

“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. ‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’”

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” 

His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears.
“Hey, Boo,” I said.
“Mr. Arthur, honey,” said Atticus, gently correcting me. “Jean Louise, this is Mr. Arthur Radley. I believe he already knows you.”

“Atticus put his face in my hair and rubbed it. When he got up and walked across the porch into the shadows, his youthful step had returned. Before he went inside the house, he stopped in front of Boo Radley. ‘Thank you for my children, Arthur,’ he said.”

 And in looking for these online to get the wording exactly right, I teared up at the power of them. It’s been so long since I read the book for the first time – I don’t even remember the first time I met the Finches, honestly, whether it was in high school or early in college – and I’m still moved to tears by the simple beauty in Lee’s words.

I’ve read the book more times than I can count; I held off on watching the movie because I didn’t think it could possibly have the power of the book, but oh, was I wrong. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch. His calm authority gave me chills. I saw a beautiful production of a theatrical version of it a couple of years ago which moved me to tears; the actor who played Atticus gave the most beautiful reading of “Thank you for my children, Arthur,” perfectly tear-choked and stiff-upper-lipped, and I audibly sobbed in the theater. (I wasn’t alone in that.)

All of this to say, when a friend posted that Go Set a Watchman was going to be published in July, my heart jumped. Of course it did. These characters have become my family over the years. A book showing me what happened to them? A book following Scout into adulthood, giving us a peek at Jem, seeing if they’ve kept in touch with Dill, letting us know if Atticus has kept his idealism with everyone around him trying to beat it out of him, letting us know if Mayella turned out alright? How can I not want that?

Then news started coming out that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t what Lee wanted.

Short version: Everyone knows that Mockingbird was Lee’s only book. She’s been a bit of a recluse ever since – not Salinger-level, or anything, but not going around the world singing “I WROTE MOCKINGBIRD, WHOO-HOO, LOOK AT ME!” (And side note, there have been rumors for years that her dear friend Truman Capote actually wrote Mockingbird – because of course a woman couldn’t have written something that luminescent, and she never followed up on it, so WHAT IS SHE HIDING? And then there are other rumors that Lee wrote Capote’s In Cold Blood, so how about we just assume they each wrote their own books and let people have their successes as neither of them have, that I know of, ever accused the other of nefariousness?)

Her sister was her lawyer for years, until she recently passed away. Lee has had a stroke and, by most reports, isn’t of sound mind. Her sister was very protective of her, and it’s come up that it’s very suspicious that this long-lost manuscript has suddenly surfaced upon her death. People are saying she’d sign anything anyone put in front of her these days, and without her sister to look out for her, she just might have signed off on a book she never wanted published. It’s a savvy move from the publisher – the book was announced just a few days ago, and is currently #5 on Amazon’s pre-order list of Contemporary Fiction and#10 in the Kindle Store for Contemporary Fiction. And Mockingbird? #1 with a bullet, baby. Topping the list currently on Amazon in the Kindle Store for Literary Fiction, #1 in Literature and Fiction in the United States, and #1 in Legal Fiction. Take THAT, John Grisham! I’m not saying, if this is true, it’s not a completely slimy move…but financially, it’s savvy.

She's kind of adorable, right? I want her to be my neighbor. I want to hang out with her and talk about birds and crocheting and words, words, words.

She’s kind of adorable, right? I want her to be my neighbor. I want to hang out with her and talk about birds and crocheting and words, words, words.

So what’s a reader to do?

There’s no way I couldn’t read this book. I have to. Everyone’s going to be reading it. It’s going to be like when the last Harry Potter book was released and I couldn’t go three feet without seeing someone with that gigantic book in their hands because they didn’t want to go even minutes without reading it. This is going to be a global discussion when it comes out. A global discussion about a book? How can I not be part of that? And the sheer fact that more people are reading Mockingbird – how can I not love that? But I’m torn. What if Lee – this woman who introduced me to Atticus and Jem and Scout and Dill and Boo – didn’t want this book flying around in the wild? What if it’s not up to her standards and that’s why it hasn’t been released until now? Don’t I owe more to this woman who’s been such a force in my life, whose given me so much? None of us will ever really know what she wants, will we? Do we let the book speak for itself?

Yes. Of course I’ll read it. And I have the highest hopes that seeing all of my old friends again, these people that I consider family, will be everything that I hope it will be. I will talk to my most beloved readers about it and we will discuss and argue and fight over our favorite lines and characters and it will be glorious.

And I will hope in my heart of hearts that my beloved Nelle Harper Lee, even if she didn’t want the book released, will understand that I’m reading the book out of love. I’m being given another chance to see people I love. How can I say no to that?

It’s just that it feels a little like killing a mockingbird.

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

32 responses to “That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird

  • Cassie

    Ou, that last sentence KILLED me. It does feel like that, doesn’t it? And I have the same concerns for “savvy” move by publishers. And oh, those lines you shared. So glad you decided to write this out – so moving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lucysfootball

      Thank you for the kick in the pants! I needed that. I needed someone to help me gather my thoughts together in a somewhat-cohesive lump for publication.

      We’re going to have a lot to talk about this summer, I think!

      Liked by 2 people

  • Sherry

    That last line in your post… that’s exactly what I’m struggling with and you said it so well.

    I’m so torn between the knowledge that this can’t be what she wanted, not after all these years of not having it published when she was perfectly clear-headed, and the elation of another book from this woman, whose words meant so much to me and captured me from the very first time I read the book (which was fifth grade! My teacher had us read it and he also read it to us during class, which made the story come even more alive).

    Of course I want to read it. I would LOVE to read it. And I likely will read it, because I am so curious, especially because it sounds like it was the book she wrote first, and then they asked her to try it in the view of a younger Scout, so I wonder if this book will connect well with the Mockingbird version and if some of the Mockingbird stories first appeared in a different way in this book, or… just so many questions and curiosities. I so very much want to read this book.

    But it makes me sad, because wanting to read someone’s book should be a good thing! Under circumstances like this, though… deep down inside I’ll always be thinking just like you: “It’s just that it feels a little like killing a mockingbird.” Perfectly said, Amy. Perfectly said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lucysfootball

      I love that you had a teacher who had you read it in 5th grade. What a great age to meet everyone in the book! I honestly can’t remember when I first read it – I don’t think it was assigned in high school, so I’m thinking I assigned it to myself in college? Terrible memory. I’m getting old.

      I both dread and can’t wait for the release. I want to discuss it with everyone and equally am afraid at what will happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Dana

    This isn’t about Harper Lee, but since you love books so much, I was wondering if you could help me remember the name of a book?

    It was about a kid who discovered a different world, buy jumping into a lake, and the bottom of this world’s lake was the surface of the other world’s lake. In the other world, there was no gravity. Things and people were secured to the world with what they called “The Tingle”.

    To keep the tingle, you had to be touching the ground, or something that touches the ground. (foot touching sock, sock touching shoe, shoe touching ground, or butt touching pj pants, pj pants touching bed, bed touching floor, etc.) If you jumped, you broke connection, or “lost The Tingle” and floated in the air until you touched something connected to the ground.

    Do you remember this book? I’ve been trying to find it for decades.

    Liked by 1 person

    • earthandink

      A few thoughts.

      As a writer, once something is written, it has its own life. Just as you cannot make something a huge success, you can’t stop something from having a life without destroying it. If anyone understood this, it’s those whose books have been huge, giant events, things that couldn’t in any way have been anticipated to do what they did. Which means Lee would be someone who truly understood this, long before any of this came to pass. She didn’t destroy it, so it was inevitable that it would one day have a life, because of the set up (one huge book and then nothing more). Most books are meant by authors to be read, at some point, by someone else. I think the fact that she didn’t toss it on the fire means that at some point it was (most likely) meant to be released.

      Can it ruin Mockingbird? Highly doubtful. Mockingbird is one of the strongest books ever written. It will be fine, no matter what is contained in Watchman.

      In many ways, I am glad that they are releasing it. Having Lee’s version of what happens to everyone means that she retains control of the characters. Anyone attempting to take them over can no longer do so easily. They are at least going to age as their author saw them aging. (And actually be who she first met, rather than the younger characters she wrote secondarily to the first.) Were I ever to write a popular book, my biggest fear would be that some idiot would come along and take over my characters, years after I was gone, and do things with them I would never wish done. So at least with this, it is what Lee saw happening to them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lucysfootball

        I have poems that are written that are just for me. And journal entries, as well. And I’d hate to destroy them, but I suppose that once I get to a certain point in my life and if there’s no one I trust with them, I’d have to.

        You’re right – can you imagine if someone came along and ghosted the characters for Lee? Good grief. Now THAT I’d avoid reading. No need for that. (I’m so glad you love the book, too!)

        Like

    • lucysfootball

      I’m sorry! I haven’t heard of it, and a web search isn’t bringing anything up for me – I’m thinking maybe posting something on the Goodreads forums might help? Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dana

        Thank you for looking! I was worried my question was inappropriate, because it wasn’t about Harper Lee.

        Liked by 1 person

        • lucysfootball

          Important rules for commenting here:

          NOTHING is inappropriate. OK, no, wait, that’s not true. Racist, sexist, homophobic comments = no nos. Comments attacking other commenters = no nos. Otherwise, we go off on tangents in the comments all the time, and I have no problems with that at all. We sometimes have better discussions in the comments than the post warrants. True story.

          Some blogs might want you to stay on-topic. I can assure you, this is NOT one of those blogs. I’ve never stayed on topic in my life, either online or in real life. Divert away!

          Like

  • mfennvt

    I’m so torn about this, too, but yes, like you, how can I not read it?

    Liked by 1 person

  • Gigi

    I’m hoping, hoping, hoping this is something that Harper Lee wants. And I know I will read it because I also loved To Kill A Mockingbird.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lucysfootball

      I think a lot of us who are thoughtful will read it, but with a bit of a heavy heart, if that makes sense. I’m hoping I love it. I hope it’s so wonderful, and such a companion piece to “Mockingbird.”

      Like

  • becomingcliche

    I have a serious rage over some books that were published (and edited, sort of) posthumously. They are skeletal examples of what the author could do in her heyday. I understand you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lucysfootball

      She was very young when she wrote this, and I don’t know how edited it was then, and how much is being edited now (and it sounds like she’s not enough in her right mind to edit it right now) so I’m a little worried. But Scout! Jem! Atticus! Sigh.

      Like

  • earthandink

    I have no idea why my comment went where it did. Apologies.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Andreas Heinakroon

    I too, have no good experience of books being published posthumously. But I too, have read them. Because I loved the authors so. If nothing else, it gives a tantalising glimpse of the work behind the scene, the processes used to create wonders.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lucysfootball

      She’s still alive (old, but alive!) Just read another article refuting the rumors she didn’t want this and saying OF COURSE SHE DOES so who knows what the truth is. I’m sure we’ll never really know. And you’re completely right – I couldn’t not read this. The first book is such a part of me – cutting myself off from this book would be impossible.

      Liked by 1 person

  • sunraeny

    Fun fact about Harper Lee – my mothers maiden name is Lee and my cousin did some research several years ago and discovered that somewhere somehow we are related to Harper Lee. My cousin even named her daughter Harper Lee Hall 😍

    Liked by 1 person

  • oh2bhuman

    Hearing about the release of the book has actually made me go looking for my copy of the original because it’s been so long that I feel I need to read it again and get lost in the story from adult’s eyes rather than the pre-teen view when I first read it…then I’ll see how I feel about reading the “next” one. Does seem a bit like treading on sacred ground to read a book perhaps that wasn’t intended to be shared.

    Liked by 1 person

  • malonebutnotafraid

    You just summed up my exact thoughts on this! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  • chococat78

    Its not often I find blogs and I think wow these words resonate with me, but in this entry I found that it really did. Its been years since Ive read that but Im sure in amongst all my books on their shelf is To Kill a Mockingbird and I hope for you that this is the icing on that literary cupcake. Its so hard to find a book that you hope that will sit up and match its predecessor in all its worth.

    Liked by 1 person

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