Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Links to coverage of Harper Lee, "Go Set a Watchman" -- plus an online live chat Friday, Aug. 14 -- on a Alabama newspaper group's website

If you loved "To Kill a Mockingbird" and you're reading "Go Set a Watchman," there's a series on the AL.com newspaper website you ought to bookmark. Carla Jean Whitney, a feature writer for the Montgomery News, has written a lot about "Watchman," including a chapter-by-chapter synopsis (probably full of spoilers), a podcast featuring Whitney and editorial writer John Hammontree and other stories about Harper Lee and her books from a Deep South perspective today. I think it's essential reading. Link here for a partial directory and surf around in the links:


Whitney introduces the podcast like this:

As we prepared to record this week's Red Clay Readers podcast, my friend and colleague John Hammontree said something that shocked me:

He might prefer "Go Set A Watchman" to "To Kill A Mockingbird."

John is the first person I've heard make such a declaration, and I quickly turned on the tape recorder (er, iPhone app) and asked him to explain himself. "I think there's a lot more to unpack there, which I think makes it a more interesting book than the fairy tale that is 'To Kill A Mockingbird,'" he said.

Listen to that discussion, then chime in and let us know what you think.

This stuff isn't indexed, and there's a lot of it. It's part of a standing feature called the "Red Clay Readers," which is sort of like an online book club for readers of the Montgomery News, the Huntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register. Whitney describes it like this and adds she'll host a livechat Friday of this week:

Red Clay Readers, AL.com's online book club, has spent the past month examining Harper Lee's "Go Set A Watchman." That analysis ends Friday, and we'll follow it with a live chat Friday afternoon at AL.com/books.

The book club kicked off with The Next Chapter events in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, in which panelists and audience members discussed themes in and expectations for Lee's second book. Friday's live chat will include some of those folks, and we hope it will be an opportunity to revisit those discussions.

Friday's chat will include Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, Auburn University-Montgomery's Nancy Grisham Anderson and Margaret Terwey, Books-A-Million's senior fiction buyer. Save the date and join us! The chat will take place from 2-3 p.m. at AL.com/books. I'll post that morning, and the conversation will take place in the comments.

There's been a lot more about the novels on the AL.com website, and the discussion I've read -- admittedly a small sampling so far -- brings to it a perspective that I think is important for the rest of us to know about.

As editorial writer John Hammontree suggests in the podcast, we gain a sense of Atticus Finch as a more well-rounded character from reading the novels together. I'd like to hope, speaking strictly for myself and from a perspective of having grown up in the South during the period Harper Lee wrote about in "Watchman," that we can come to an understanding of the complexity of race relations similar to what Harper Lee's Jean Louise Finch struggled with in "Go Set a Watchman." I suspect the book is deeply flawed, but it's important because we don't like to think about race -- and even if the novel isn't successful, Lee at least tries.

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