Fifty Shades of Atticus Finch

by Angela Doll Carlson August 04, 2015

When I found out that Harper Lee was publishing another book, I think I squealed out loud. I’m nerdy, not overly nerdy but still, nerdy. I knew there was another book, but I also knew of the rumor that Harper Lee did not intend for it to see the light of day. Because the Internet is a miraculous and wondrous place, we knew more sordid details about this book before we could even crack its spine.

Within a few short days of the news breaking that Go Set a Watchman was finally becoming available, those sordid details began to crawl across my newsfeed. There is controversy about the book and about Harper Lee’s health and about the motivations for the book being published, most centering around money or fame for someone other than the author.

I confess I have no idea about any of that. I just want to read another book by an author I admire, by an author who wrote something that affected me strongly when I was young.

When I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was Scout. Most of us were Scout when we read To Kill a Mockingbird weren’t we? I was brave when I was Scout. I was afraid when I was Scout. I was confused and changing and developing, judging the world that was unfolding before me.

But perhaps what is astounding about the book is that at the same time I was Scout, I was also Boo. Perhaps at moments I was even Tom. I was Jem; I was Miss Maudie, and if I was very lucky, I was Atticus, fair and justice minded, champion of the weak and discriminated.

The genius of this author is that when I read this book I was able to find myself all along the story. Parts of me surfaced with each character each time I read it, even parts I didn’t care for so much. I identified the most with Scout because I was young and female and maybe a bit of a tomboy, but there were pieces of me in all of the characters.

When Go Set a Watchman came on the horizon, I felt excited to read it and I felt afraid because of the controversy. But I pre-ordered that sucker as soon as I was able. I don’t know about you, but in my circles there were a number of people calling for a boycott. There was outrage that to purchase the book was somehow an affront or a downright abuse of the aging and possibly senile author.

But I ordered the book and quietly waited. Reviews started to surface and another round of outrage sprang forth from my Facebook feed. Turns out, according to the reviewers, that Atticus is a racist in later years. Scout is angry and distant. The book isn’t a sequel as much as it is a draft of what would later become the classic we all know and love. More warnings about the book went up on my newsfeed, more outrage, more admonitions. I felt conflicted as I waited for the book to show up on my doorstep. Am I part of the problem here? Will I be disappointed? Will it tarnish my memories of To Kill a Mockingbird?

So my copy arrived today and I’m afraid to open it. At this writing I have not yet cracked its spine. I have not even leafed through it. I am standing on the edge of Go Set a Watchman and I am at once excited and afraid of what I will find in the pages.

I hear the voices of my literary minded friends in my ear and I hear my own recent judgments about books I think are not worth the hype they get, books I think are a waste of time or a money making ploy, books I speak against because I feel they degrade the genre, the culture, the reading public. I hear those words in my head as I draw my hand across the smooth cover of Go Set a Watchman and trace the yellow letters of the title that are etched into the blue charcoal background.

I want to read it. I will read it. Just having the book in my hands melts the controversy away. It is just the book and me sitting in my living room ready for a long day of reading and discovery. I am hopeful about it.

And while I think I ought to care about the controversy, I realize in this moment that I don’t care. While I think I ought to boycott or defer or stand on some principle, I know I won’t. I know I will read it. It may seem selfish perhaps, but I will read it and I will decide for myself. I will be hopeful that the writing will pull me in, that the story will be engaging, that the characters will have flesh and bone, spirit and song so that I might climb into their skin, walk a mile in this new story and find myself once again. That’s what Scout would do.


Angela Doll Carlson
Angela Doll Carlson

Author

Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in Thin Air Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Apeiron Review, Relief Journal Magazine, St. Katherine Review, Rock & Sling and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She has published two books, “Nearly Orthodox” and “Garden in the East.”



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