IC fêtes new Harper Lee novel

BY YUN LIN | JULY 14, 2015 5:00 AM

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Some fans of famed author Harper Lee celebrated the release of her second book, Go Set a Watchman, in Iowa City on Monday night.

At 10 p.m., FilmScene, 118 E. College St., held a screening of the 1962 movie To Kill A Mockingbird and after the film finished, audience members were then handed out a first printing, hardcover edition of Go Set a Watchman courtesy of Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman in the mid-1950s but was discouraged by her editor from publishing it. The novel was then forgotten about until her lawyer discovered the manuscript in 2014. Released late Monday, it was published as it was originally written with no revisions.

“We think it will be a fun way to celebrate the release of the new book,” Prairie Lights co-owner Jan Weissmiller said prior to the event. “People would like to see the movie on a full screen because it is a famous movie, and it is wonderful to see it at theater rather than at home.”

Weissmiller said Prairie Lights ordered around 150 copies of the book, and it will order more copies as soon as possible. FilmScene Executive Director Joe Tiefenthaler said the 65-ticket show sold out quickly and interest was high.

“It’s a wonderful way for us to partner with our local independent bookstore to celebrate film and literature and see just what everyone has waited 55 years to hold and read,” Tiefenthaler said.

University of Iowa English Professor Loren Glass said he looked forward to reading the book and was interested to see people’s perceptions and reactions because the book has become a foundation in American culture.

“This might be a good time to return to the earlier novel and think about the role it has played in American education,” he said. “That should be an interesting discussion.”

However, many scholars still reserve judgment about Lee’s new book.

“I have not decided yet if I’m going to read this book,” said John Kenyon, the Iowa City director of UNESCO City of Literature. “To Kill a Mockingbird is so singular, so I kind of maintain that reading the new book might change the way I’m looking at the original book.”

Glass also said he shared the reservations, but he said he was more excited than before after reading the first chapter of the book recently published online.

“I know some people worried about the conditions of the book being published in the first place,” Glass said. “I do share the concerns of other scholars that Harper Lee may not have been capable of given her full consent for the publication of this book.”

In 2007, the now 89-year-old Lee suffered a stroke, and shortly after the publication of Go Set a Watchman was announced in February, a debate began about Lee’s mental state and her ability to consent to the manuscript being published.

Following these questions, the Alabama Securities Commission opened an investigation into Lee’s mental health. In April, it reported Lee understood and approved of the book’s publication and closed the case.

Both Glass and Canyon are glad that people are passionate about the new book even though it is different from To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird is still going to be the same book, with the same words and on the same pages,” Keynon said. “That people are so passionate about that makes me feel happy to know people care that much about paper books, and they put so much time and thought into it.”

The recently released novel was the most ordered book during pre-publication on Amazon.com since J.K Rowling’s seventh Harry Potter, and the book’s publisher, HarperCollins, announced it would have an initial 2 million print run in the United States.

“I suppose intrigued instead of excited describes my feelings,” Keynon said. “I’ve heard a lot about this book, and I want to leave it for readers to decide.”

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