Today was a very busy day at my job. It wasn’t stressful; it was just eventful, and while I took my normal lunch time with my normal lunch buddies, I was a little bit out of sorts. At a few minutes past noon, I rushed from my workplace to share lunch with my coworkers. Typically, my friends and I enjoy a quick bite to eat, catch up on chit chat, and use our smartphones to scroll through our social media newsfeeds, sharing funny stories, pictures, and other tidbits. Today, I left my phone on my desk. No big deal. Some people consider it rude to have a cellphone at the lunch table anyway.
After lunch, I returned to my tasks and productively completed my jobs. When the workday nearly reached its conclusion, I heard my forsaken cellphone buzz. Its screen was full of missed text messages, but the most recent one took priority. It was from my good friend, the writer, my fellow literature lover, Leslie. It read: “To Kill a Mockingbird sequel coming out in July…what?!?!”
“Psht.” I thought. “Who would have the audacity to do such a thing?”
“BOYCOTT,” I responded.
I assumed some new writer had taken the liberty to create a follow-up to the phenomenal fiction that IS To Kill a Mockingbird. Or maybe Leslie meant “remake.” I have heard some sources say that a modern adaptation of the award-winning film was in the works. Either way, I was outraged.
When I was sufficiently off the clock, I logged on to my Facebook account. BOOM! My timeline blew up with messages that my contacts had either tagged me in a post, shared a post, written on my wall, or tried in some way to let me know the truth: Harper Lee’s new attorney has discovered a lost manuscript. Harper Lee’s original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird exists. I read the posts, and the news links attached to each one. ABC News. The Wall Street Journal. They all tell of the newly discovered text, GO SET A WATCHMAN, which features an adult Scout Finch living in New York.
While all the literary world seems to rejoice at the second-coming of Harper Lee, I am not ready for a New Testament. To Kill a Mockingbird is, for me, a sacred text. The triumph of pure goodness over evil reigns. The wisdom of Atticus Finch guides me almost like scripture. The language, the conflict, the perfect resolution – To Kill a Mockingbird leaves no question unanswered for me. As I read the final paragraphs and close the cover, I am a fulfilled reader.
There is a holiness in the fact that (until now) the world knows ONE work by Harper Lee. For nearly six decades, readers have marveled at the notion that her amazing talent had the power to create literary perfection. We imagine that she must have seen that it was good and rested. And now, fifty-some-odd years later, a revelation. “We found the prototype.”
The sequel, as folks are calling it, will be published this July, and I’m sure it will sell millions of copies. I doubt that it will rival the success that is the revised version we know and love, but I am certain it will be well read. I’m just not sure that I will be one of the readers.
I want to remember Scout as a child, learning the right ways to overcome tough, adult conflicts. I want to float on the freedom she and her brother Jem had once “Bob Ewell fell on his kitchen knife.” I want to forever cherish the living bond that Scout and Boo share. What could a grown-up Scout teach me that she didn’t already demonstrate in the currently-available version? Could any conflict she might encounter in her adult life be more gripping that the one she recounts in our beloved To Kill a Mockingbird? Is there any more delightful “happily ever after” than the one we enjoy as Scout walks Boo back to his house? What will become of Atticus? Lord, please don’t make readers like me witness his perfect, gentle, fierce courage dwindle in his old age. Don’t replace the unsoiled image I have of him with a picture of an elderly, fragile man.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it – be able to read another chapter of the lives of these characters. I don’t know if I want to. Harper Lee got it right the first time. One gorgeous novel. One important, socially relevant, timeless, gorgeous novel. Thank goodness I have until July to ponder the notion.