When I first heard about the imminent publishing of Harper Lee’s so-called second novel, I knew there was something hinky going on. Clearly, it had not been set in motion by the author (89) who lives in a nursing home. After trying to publish my own first novel, I have experienced the industry's peculiarities. They are much akin to the art world in which all gatekeepers want a track record (branding) no matter what the quality of the work. This is why the same artists are shown over and over locally and worldwide. This forces masses of creative individuals to invent identities online. This is called nano-casting, so I’m told, replacing previous narrowcasting – all derived from the original word, broadcasting, if you follow the flow of media jargon. Here novices can tough it out in a crowd of millions with a personal websites and a Twitter accounts. There is always a chance of discovery in a sea of drek, incessant social media and celebrity bullshit. Good luck, sucker.
I read the first chapter of Watchman last week in the Wall Street Journal. Later, there was a follow up editorial about the discovery of the manuscript in Harper’s safe-deposit box by her life-long attorney, Tonya B. Carter in Alabama, 2011. There was a PBS documentary with a story of a different slant, mostly to do with the civil rights aspects of both book and film. The rest will come out in the wash as everyone discovers Go Set A Watchman was clearly the trial go for ‘Mockingbird.’ It was written before our beloved American classic novel featuring adorable tomboy, Scout and upstanding lawyer dad, Gregory Peck. He ends up representing all progressive, liberal whites then and now. I mention Peck because I have seen the film numerous times while never reading the actual book! My High School English class read Moby Dick instead and Mark Twain, two guy writers. Sorry. My ignorance is appalling, but can you see the wool being pulled over us sheep? Is it a trivial matter that Peck appeared in both films? Well, maybe, but I digress.
Yet another recent PBS radio discussion was on point and questioned the ethics of publishing Watchman. A guest author – die-hard literary guy who’d never seen the film version – used the term, “sinister packaging.” I concur. They played Reese Witherspoon reading a bit of the same chapter from the book-on-tape. Fine, but all this fuss is not just about Mockingbird but the subsequent film that met many more eyes over many decades. That is the nature of popular culture. I have picked up a flyer from my local bricks & mortar bookstore – there is still one in NW Philly – advertising the sale and reading of Watchman accompanied by a screening of Mockingbird. I have to curb my enthusiasm. What about the connection between Truman Capote (In Cold Blood, another book and film) and Nelle? Is there a darker side to this story?