Do It, Harper Lee

This past week, the Crazy Train rolled through, packed with reports about Harper Lee and another book.

Had the media storm that followed been an actual snow storm, it would have been the first this season to have been predicted with 100% accuracy.

As Winston Churchill put it, “A lie gets halfway around the world before Truth has a chance to get its pants on.” In this Global Village of ours, I doubt if Truth was even out of bed by the time all the rumors were on their second circuit around the pond.

I don’t know Lee or her family and friends, or her publisher or her lawyer, so I’ll let them sort out the rumors.

There is one thing I’m having a hard time dropping, though—the opinion that she shouldn’t publish. By publishing now, this thinking goes, she might risk tarnishing her legacy—and To Kill A Mockingbird thus lose its “classic” label.

Assuming she wasn’t “manipulated” into releasing the book as some have opined, why shouldn’t she publish? It’s her life and her work.

Yes, it might be that the new release won’t be as good as the first. And, perhaps we’ll find that To Kill A Mockingbird benefited more from a genius editor than a talented writer.

But, we also might find ourselves reading another book confirming Lee to be the literary force that so many of us have believed her to be. We might find ourselves reading the seed of what grew into the now-classic. We might find ourselves reading the next Great American Novel. And, we might find, as the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board wrote, that the new release “does nothing more than inspire readers to pick up Mockingbird for the first time or again.” And that is, as the Editorial Board also wrote, “enough of a gift.”

Is it really worth playing it safe?

No. It isn’t.

You might flop, but if we’re so fickle that we change opinions of your earlier work—or if your first release was a flop and then we use it as the marker to decide if your future work is worth our time—we don’t deserve you.

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  1. Mary Doyle on February 6, 2015 at 5:08 am

    Bravo and amen, Callie, especially for that last line! I was excited to see the announcement earlier this week of Lee’s forthcoming book. Then someone sent me a link to the NYT article. The author’s stance is a head-scratcher – Ms. Lee should keep her book under wraps because, among other objections, it might not live up to the idolatry of Mockingbird fans? Seriously? Thanks for taking up for Ms. Lee – she deserves to be championed.

  2. Erika Viktor on February 6, 2015 at 6:18 am

    Oh people! They all have opinions! They all want to keep the past going.

    What does it matter? We are all going to melt into the sun eventually anyway.

    Too dark?

    • Tom Asacker on February 6, 2015 at 10:09 am

      Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
      As I foretold you, were all spirits and
      Are melted into air, into thin air:
      And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
      The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
      The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
      Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
      And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
      Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
      As dreams are made on, and our little life
      Is rounded with a sleep.

      William Shakespeare
      From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1

  3. Stacy on February 6, 2015 at 6:48 am

    Right on, Callie. I think we can handle it if the new book’s a disappointment. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s about damn time.

  4. Andrea on February 6, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Perhaps she had the great good fortune of working with a genius editor on “To Kill a Mockingbird”. So, what? Does that diminish her work? Does working with a brilliant director diminish the flawless, emotional part an actor plays? There are a lot of collaborative examples in art, and there is nothing wrong with it. An artist is grabbed by an idea and seeks to create the best work he or she can produce.
    I can bet that as great as her editor may have been, he wouldn’t have come up with the story on his own. It is her story.

    • Barbara Saunders on February 6, 2015 at 10:18 am

      I didn’t read the comment about the genius editor as an insult to Harper Lee. I’m a writer and an editor. The first thing I thought when I read the story was the the editor’s genius instincts were matched by the writer’s critical humility and drive – the willingness to dive back in. A “genius editor” isn’t someone who upstages the writer; she’s the person with the skill and the diplomacy to push the writer that one extra step that makes the difference.

  5. barry on February 6, 2015 at 7:47 am

    At her age why does she need to worry about her legacy? She already has that!

  6. Bonnie on February 6, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Well said!

  7. Joel D Canfield on February 6, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Anyone fretting about tarnish is worrying about themselves, not Lee.

    I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s comments about getting the disappointment of her second book out of the way so she could move on:

    There was an episode of Frasier where they met a reclusive Salingeresque author and stumbled across his long-awaited second manuscript. When they praise it to high heaven, the author takes every comment as some double entendre, “realizes” the book is garbage that will only tarnish his reputation, and tosses it in the fireplace.

    I feel, to some extent, as if artists owe fans a choice. Sure, don’t publish garbage, but a second work which is only magnificent, rather than world-changing? I’m okay with that.

  8. Andrew lubin on February 6, 2015 at 11:29 am

    I’m reserving judgement until after I read her next book. Even if it’s not as brilliant as ‘Mockingbird’, it’ll still be better than those opinionated pundits and bloggers who have published nothing.

  9. Bev Bachmann on February 7, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a treasure for all time,and if her next book doesn’t live up to its standards–who cares.

    By the way, I particularly liked the comment by Erika Viktor. Talk about keeping things in perspective!

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