theguardian.com – It’s been a little under a year since I first dove into the ocean that is reporting on Nelle Harper Lee’s current situation and frankly I still feel like I’m trying to catch the surf. More than a few waves have swelled since I first asking questions, then about a controversy regarding a book someone else had written about her (The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills). Obviously, the wave that came with Go Set a Watchman washed that former concern out to sea. And when I saw it rolling in this past February I began to get queasy. I’ve watched while people with greater access and more time at the New York Times, the New Yorker and elsewhere, have fished around and have pulled a wealth of questions, if few answers, from their investigations. After all that, I’m not surprised that we’re no closer to an answer.
Still, I did not expect the latest bit of Harper Lee news that came out of Brilliant Books, in Traverse City, Michigan. The store announced that it intended to refund the purchase price of Go Set a Watchman to any customer who was dissatisfied with the book.
“We at Brilliant Books want to be sure that our customers are aware that Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel or prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird,” the store’s owners said in a statement. “Neither is it a new book. It is a first draft that was originally, and rightfully, rejected.” They added: “It is disappointing and frankly shameful to see our noble industry parade and celebrate this as ‘Harper Lee’s New Novel’.”
I don’t like to attack independent bookstores, they are an endangered species after all. But still I question the naiveté here: Brilliant Books stocked Watchman. No self-respecting bookish person could have missed the avalanche of press coverage leading up to the release of Watchman. In a recent review of an entirely different book, the New York Times book critic Dwight Garner observed that Watchman “left a blast pit commentators will be staring into for decades”. And even before “racist Atticus” saw the light of day as a hook for a hundred op-eds, there was never any real question that this was truly a new novel.