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Harper Lee’s ‘New’ Novel Hits Boise Bookstore Shelves This Week


When it hit first hit bookshelves in 1960, many of To Kill a Mockingbird’s readers sensed the rages of racism in the w ords through the words of what would become some of literature’s most familiar characters. More than a half-century later, Mockingbird has sold more than 40 million copies, won the Pulitzer Prize and is still a staple of American literary education. On Tuesday, July 14, its publisher, HarperCollins, will release its sequel, To Set a Watchman. It’s a second act that comes at a time when the book’s central themes are again in the headlines.

“I think that we’ve had a lot of really topical things happening in our country in the last year,” said Erin Nelson, who coordinates events at Rediscovered Books in downtown Boise. “They’ve been divisive, and I think those are really important conversations our customers are having with each other.”

Watchman's plot centers on the original novel’s characters 20 years after the events of Mockingbird. Readers will revisit a grown-up Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as she travels from New York to her hometown of Maycomb, Ala.

Watchman has been presented as a sequel to Mockingbird, but it came into being as an early draft Lee’s publisher asked her to edit into what would become Mockingbird.

There was excitement among the public and critics in February when details of Watchman’s discovery by Tonja Carter, Lee’s attorney, were released. Carter found the novel as she was reviewing an old typescript of Mockingbird in August 2013.

Watchman may actually have been discovered years earlier by Sotheby's literary expert Justin Caldwell. According to The New York Times, Caldwell, Carter and Lee’s former literary agent Samuel Pinkus met in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Ala., in October 2011 for an insurance meeting, where Watchman was found in a safety deposit box belonging to Lee.

That has raised questions about whether Lee, who lives in an assisted living facility and has hearing, vision and memory loss, was coerced into publishing Watchman. In April, an investigation into elder abuse by the state of Alabama determined claims of coercion and elder abuse are unfounded, but Nelson told Boise Weekly the controversy kicked off broader conversations about treatment of the elderly and artistic consent.

“You’re talking about a gatekeeper between Lee and her publicists and publisher. You really wonder; you hope that her publisher isn’t taking advantage of her,” she said.