I don’t remember the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird. Or I guess I should say, I don’t remember when I was made to read To Kill A Mockingbird. I remember the second time: I was 21. And the third: I was 25. I’ll probably read it again, in anticipation of the very loudly and virally announced follow-up novel, Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s only other written endeavor since Mockingbird was released in 1960.
Re-reading childhood classics and selections from school Required Reading lists has been a bit of a failed experiment for me. Laura Ingalls Wilder is kind of lame and angelic, plus her mom is so racist. The Chronicles of Narnia is offensively overt and, if I’m honest, I never really understood Catch-22. I loved The Unbearable Lightness of Being in high school, but now suspect I was pretending in order to feel cultured and be the best at English class.
But Mockingbird is one of those really special books that speaks to my soul differently every time I read it. Sometimes, it’s about childhood and the strange but magical qualities of those friendships forged during the earliest years of your life. Lately, I’ve focused on Scout and Jem—other times, I’m drawn to Scout’s relationship with her dad. Mockingbird is an almost-perfect novel—filled with characters that somehow sound like we sound and act as we would like to act, though rooted firmly in small-town Alabama in the 1930s. Scout speaks truly and wisely and is genuinely hilarious—in the manner of those awesome kids featured in that Always Super Bowl commercial. #LIKEAGIRL!
Here’s my fear—part of what makes an excellent childhood classic is that those beloved characters are frozen in time. Scout gets to stay that precocious kid forever—or she grows up to be exactly who I want her to be, in my imagination. Maybe she even grows up to be exactly like me. This is why epilogues and add-ons that contradict those fantasies can be so dangerous—and potentially infuriating (see: Harry Potter).
What will this transcendently awesome young person look like, twenty years after we met her? What if she’s fully jaded, an unhappy adult? What if she’s boring or unlikeable? What if she’s a Republican??
I will certainly read Go Set a Watchman. Despite my concerns (and those shared by others). Despite its grammatically confusing title, and the strange timeline of its creation (Is it technically a prequel? Sequel? Also, Harper Lee just—forgot about this for more than fifty years? Should we be concerned?). Despite the fact that so many people will read this book not because they want to, but because they think they should. To be cultured and smart, like high school me.
Me, circa high school. Note: large book.
Which is annoying. High school me was probably annoying. I’d never admit it then, but high-school-me would have much preferred being sassy in overalls and breaking into haunted houses to debating Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal return. I still miss overalls, and I still don’t understand Nietzsche. And I wonder if, firmly in our twenties, Scout and I would still be friends.
Go Set a Watchman is scheduled for release on July 14, 2015.