Readers Only Care About What Harper Lee has Written Rather Than Harper Lee Herself

I’ve written about Harper Lee multiple times in recent weeks, and today will likely be the last time I do. Go Set a Watchman sold 1.1 million copies in its first six days of release. Even though there’s been controversy surrounding the book since the day it was announced.

Am I surprised by this? No. But it is somewhat depressing to realize. Harper Lee is a literary icon. She’s supposed to be beloved and respected and all these great things by her fans and peers alike, right? But it’s clear to me that her readers only care about what she has or has not written rather than the person doing the writing. I fully understand that people will buy any book with her name on it, but one would think that some people would just not buy it because it may or may not have been published almost entirely without her permission.

People can think of the entire situation however they like, but this is what I think of it. I have a real issue with supporting the exploitation of an elderly woman for money. Because that’s what I truly believe has happened here. And sure you can say that your $15 or whatever it cost you to get the book isn’t even a drop in the bucket when it comes to what this book will earn, but that’s just offering a justification for your actions. A justification that I have no interest in.

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14 thoughts on “Readers Only Care About What Harper Lee has Written Rather Than Harper Lee Herself

  1. I tend to agree, with the exception that they technically have her permission. In writing. To which she has sworn. I think it’s very possible that she is not (and was not at the time she gave it) competent to give this permission, and it certainly seems to go against all of her expressed wishes at a time when we are pretty sure she was competent. I’m reluctant to buy or even read it from the library for that reason, but I’m also watching the response to it from people I respect, because I’m pretty curious. I’m not close enough to determine her competence, and I think it’s a big deal to declare someone incompetent if they’re not, but it’s also bringing up an important conversation about legacy planning, because without written wishes to the contrary, this was probably going to happen at her death, regardless. Elder protection is a big deal and worth more open discussion than it gets, and so is estate planning.

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    • Of course. I know they have it, but you know what I mean. I’m just curious, what does it matter what anyone thinks of the book? That’s not the point. At least that’s not the point I’m making.

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      • I’m curious about what people I respect think about the book because I’m intrigued about why she wrote it, kept it, but prohibited its publication so long. I’m curious about what their insight brings me to, relative to the question of whether she could have legitimately changed her mind about it, or whether they think this is the exploitation that it appears to us to be. I’m also curious about it in terms of craft. I’ve heard that this was less of a sequel and more of a pre-quel— more like the things she wrote that brought her to To Kill a Mockingbird. A writer’s journey to the story they tell is an area of particular interest to me. It doesn’t sound like these are areas of curiosity for you, and I’m not trying to persuade you differently, just sharing a perspective.

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  2. I fully agree with this and that is why I will not be purchasing or reading this book.

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  3. Despite the fact that I largely agree with everything you said, I don’t necessarily believe that purchasing the book signifies that readers care about what Harper Lee has written rather than Harper Lee herself.
    I maintained, and will continue to maintain the perspective that it was absolutely not okay to publish Go Set a Watchman given all of the information regarding its publication. However, I believe that since they went ahead and published it nevertheless, Go Set a Watchman can be read as a sign of respect for Harper Lee––both as a person and as a writer. Lee crafted a story in To Kill a Mockingbird that has gone down in American history for the powerful messages it contained and for the social impact that it created, and for that I have so much respect for her Harper Lee, both as a person and as a writer. My intention in reading Go Set a Watchman is to go into it with an open mind and to not necessarily treat it as something finalized, but rather as the stepping stone to something beautiful from a wonderful person who I appreciate so much.

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  4. I agree with this. At first I was surprised and excited that this book was being released, however, after hearing everything about it’s publication, I don’t want to buy it. I think I will respect Harper Lee, even though I have not read her first book To Kill A Mockingbird, I will be reading it soon. And it doesn’t seem like the kind of book that has or needs a sequel either.

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  5. Elder abuse and exploitation is far more common than people think. I saw it all the time when I worked in a nursing home rehab center and in a large hospital, and I continue to see it in my practice. It’s disgusting and entirely uncalled for, but people don’t care as much if elders are abused or neglected. I’ve always been outspoken about this issue, so I’m glad you brought it up. I’ll have to seriously consider whether to purchase this book now.

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    • There’s no doubt in my mind that this happens. But this seemed to happen right in front of everyone that you just don’t see as much. At least I don’t. But that doesn’t make it any more or less okay. She’s still an elderly woman. Doesn’t natter if she’s rich or famous or anything.

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