Reading for Pleasure

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

I’m not sorry I read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.


I have a few words of caution for my fellow Mockingbird lovers still on the fence about whether to read Go Set a Watchman.

I wish I had approached this work as the rejected manuscript of a very talented young writer, and not as a companion to the well-crafted and beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. I suggest you do just that if you decide to jump off the fence and read it. I wrote the following observations as I was reading:

The Quick & Dirty Half-Way Review

  1. I found that my old friend Scout is just as earnest and charming as ever.
  2. It is a pleasure to read Harper Lee’s writing.
  3. I’m trying to make sense (right along with Jean Louise) of what is happening to my town, and to the people who used to be my beacons of fairness and common sense (namely, Atticus and Calpurnia).
  4. I think I’m going to love this book, but right now it is breaking my heart.

The Quick & Dirty Last-Half Review

  1. I found that my old friend Scout lost her voice in the last half of this work. While Jean Louis didn’t break character, her character lost its magic–she felt ordinary and rushed, and not nearly as engaging or as insightful as she was in the first half of Go Set a Watchman.
  2. It was hard to see Harper Lee’s writing, the promise of which shines so clearly in the first half of this work, become ordinary.
  3. I didn’t like that Atticus and Calpurnia don’t develop beyond the caricatures they are presented as in the first half of Go Set a Watchman. 
  4.  This book didn’t break my heart, but it came close. The story didn’t break my heart–it became a rather forgettable coming of age tale. The writing didn’t break my heart, either–the moments of Harper Lee’s promise in the first half of the book made my heart glad that such talent exists. The fact that this book was available for me to read cracks my heart. While I love the insight this work provides into writing as a craft, and the importance of the editorial process, I hate the questions that surround this work’s publication.

As an educator, I see the silver linings of this work’s publication. I see the dialogue this book spurs about writing, racism, and social justice.

As a reader, I am thankful for this peek into the past. I am thankful that editors did not accept and publish a rather typical and forgettable story, but instead saw the promise of this work to be made into something amazing.


Interested in learning more?

Check out the Go Set a Watchman Summary and Analysis on Thug Notes (PG-13)

Sweet Home Alabama by Adam Gopnik from The New Yorker on July 27th, 2015

Moral Ambition Sabotaged by Sarah Churchill from The Guardian on July 17th, 2015

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