Both of my daughters worked at bookstores after high school and before they got on with the rest of their lives. Both used to love telling stories about confused patrons who mixed up the titles of the books they were trying to purchase. The classic, of course, is the student who was looking for How to Kill a Mockingbird. Probably everyone who has ever worked in a bookstore can tell similar stories.
To Kill a Mockingbird is such a beloved book and is so much a part of our national identity, how we see ourselves - we all strive to be Atticus - that it is no wonder that the recent announcement that a sequel would be published later this year caused such a stir. Perhaps it could have even been predicted that the initial excitement would give way to second thoughts and questioning.
After all, for more than fifty years, Harper Lee had declined to publish another book. There had been rumors that there was such a book that was written around the same time as Mockingbird but there was never any indication that she wished to have it published. Quite the opposite in fact.
But last year, Fate took a hand in events. Ms. Lee's older sister died and apparently in the process of handling her estate, the lawyer for both the sisters discovered the manuscript of a book called Go Set a Watchman. It featured familiar characters from To Kill a Mockingbird but was set several years in the future when Scout Finch was grown up. And after half a century, Harper Lee was persuaded to publish once again.
Soon after the big announcement, all the naysayers began to weigh in. They speculated that Ms. Lee had been pressured into agreeing to be published, that at age 88 she was perhaps not capable of making such a decision. In an attempt to quash the speculation, she released a statement that she was happy and excited about publication, but, of course, that just caused the conspiracy theorists to say that she was probably being pressured to make that statement!
Those on Ms. Lee's team - her agent and lawyer and others - are learning, if they didn't already know, that there's no way to win in such a controversy. There will always be those like "Tom the Dancing Bug" who will question their motives.
I don't know the truth, of course. I can only hope, as I'm sure all Harper Lee's fans do, that this book is good and is a worthy successor to To Kill a Mockingbird. And I hope that Ms. Lee is fully aware and involved in plans for its publication and that she is looking forward to that event with delight. After all the pleasure she has given so many readers, she deserves to have the pleasure of seeing this book embraced by those readers and becoming another humongous literary phenomenon. It would be a shame indeed if it cast a shadow on a legend.