It's been a few weeks since the news was announced, but the buzz doesn't seem to be dying down: Harper Lee, author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, is publishing a sequel half a century later!
Mockingbird, for the unacquainted, is one of those books that is at once painfully honest and starkly beautiful. It's about truth and justice, and it's about how insignificant and how utterly important you are to the world. It is, to put it quite simply, a book that one does not soon forget.
So naturally, when the news dropped, people freaked out. I was no exception.
HARPER LEE IS WRITING A SEQUEL. I AM INCAPABLE OF WRITING IN ANYTHING BUT CAPS LOCK AT THE MOMENT. SOMEBODY HOLD ME.
— Topaz Winters (@topazwinters) February 5, 2015
However, not long after I posted the above tweet, the lovely folks of the Twitterverse brought to my attention that perhaps not all was right with this seemingly too-good-to-be-true news. The literary world is a sceptic one, and there were people scratching their heads: Lee, now 88 years old, is an extremely private author, known to be in ill health and possessing the unfortunate habit of signing whatever's put in front of her - and, on top of that, her sister, lawyer, and fierce defender Alice passed away only three months ago.
And here the terrible thought arises: could it be possible that Lee was coerced into publishing Watchman?
The suspicions sparked even more discussion than the original news, with reactions ranging from incredulous to furious to downright disbelieving.
Here's the thing, though: at least there was a discussion.
What I've seen popping up on blogs and in my Twitter feed and tainted throughout the bookish community is something much, much worse: apathy. People are beginning to make up their minds, and the horrifying thing is, too many are leaning towards forgetting the controversy altogether in favour of focusing on the wonder of the book's existence.
Don't get me wrong: I was and am over the moon that Watchman is set to be published. But that's only half of this equation. Is it not our duty as readers to stay informed and, if needed, speak up about what might be going on behind the scenes? It's one thing to get excited over books, especially ones with such huge footprints to fill, but it's quite another to sweep this controversy under the rug. Literature is like life in that it never promised to keep us comfortable - so why is it that so many of us are opting to ignore the less pleasant scenario, the cruelty that might be going on right under our noses?
Now, it's entirely possible that all of this is a whole lot of fuss over nothing. It might be true that Lee is completely happy with her decision and knew exactly what the repercussions were when she signed off the rights. But at this point, we don't know that. I don't know it and you don't know it and until we do, it's so important that we keep our eyes open and actively seek out as much accurate information as possible about Watchman. Until we have definitive facts, all we have to work on is speculation - but we need to keep this conversation going, at the risk of a vulnerable author being exploited for her work.
Through To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee taught so many of us about justice, and honour, and what it means to fight for what's right even when the odds seem impossibly stacked against you.
I'm no Atticus Finch, but I look at so many readers turning a blind eye and I can't help but wonder: is it not our responsibility to return the favour?