Last night, my fiancé asked me how I’m going to read Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman.
“Will you read it as a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, or will you read it as the rough draft of a novel that an editor saw and said, ‘Eh, try again?'”
It’s a question that those of us who actually looked forward to high school English class are mulling over: How do we approach this book? And how do we approach it with controversy around whether the elderly author of the work, who spent her entire post-Mockingbird life vehemently stating that she was unwilling to publish another novel, has suddenly decided it’s time to publish the forebear of To Kill A Mockingbird? Are we supporting the hangers-on of a famous woman who may not have her wits about her by buying the book and talking about it?
But I just can’t resist. Another Harper Lee novel was American literature’s white whale (to mix my literary metaphors). Watchman is likely going to be a disappointment when compared to Mockingbird—it was rejected by Lee’s editor in the 1950s and didn’t get much of an edit for its 2015 release. While it’s sold as a stand-alone novel, critics are already highlighting segments that echo across both books and viewing the work as a draft, not its own entity.
Another aspect of the hullabaloo around the release of Watchman is the character of Atticus Finch, who is apparently not the saintly, color-blind presence he is to young Jean Louise in Mockingbird. Friends in my Facebook feed have openly stated they won’t read the book due to the character assassination of a fictional character. Even parents who named their sons Atticus are outraged, which is a whole different blog post for another time.
I’m willing to take the ride on Go Set a Watchman. Remember: To Kill a Mockingbird is told by adult Jean Louise reflecting on a series of remarkable events from her childhood as Scout. The narration stays closer to Scout, with some wry winks from Jean Louise’s more mature narration. Go Set a Watchman takes place two decades later, when Miss Finch is in her late 20s. Are the memories you have of your parents the same at 26 as they were when you were six? Doubtful.
My plan is to avoid as many reviews and hot takes of Go Set a Watchman as possible, and to read it both as a sequel to Mockingbird while remembering that it served as a draft for one of American literature’s strongest works. No spoilers, please!
Every year, I think about New Year’s resolutions. They’re typically the banal kind that advertisers discuss in their focus groups. Lose weight. Pay off debt. Travel more. I read a million blog posts and magazine articles about the tools and tips I need to meet my goals.
When it comes to resolutions, I accomplished quite a few in 2014. I fulfilled my lifelong goal of sticking my toes in the Pacific Ocean on a family vacation to California. I paid off $10,000 in credit card debt after two years of hard work. While I didn’t lose weight, I stuck with a new fitness routine that’s made me stronger.
For 2015, I’m thinking of going beyond the New Year’s resolution. It’s time for a New Year’s Philosophy. Here it is:
Consume less. Create more.
No, I’m not running off to an ashram or a commune in Vermont. Hear me out.
The reason I haven’t lost weight is because I’ve consumed too much food that isn’t good for my body. If I take the time to create more meals at home, thinking about the stuff I’m feeding myself, odds are I’ll start losing weight. (And, if I don’t, I’m going to the doctor to have my hormones checked.)
Consuming less means fewer take-out meals when I’m just too lazy to reheat something I planned to eat. During a time when my fiance and I are both stressed out, frazzled messes with no free time? We’re getting a healthyish meal out so we can connect with each other instead of feeling guilty about a pile of dishes in the sink.
And it’s not just about food. I haven’t been writing as much because I’ve been consumed by distractions. House Hunters marathons just because I’m too lazy or too frustrated by my creative output to pick up the computer and keep plowing through. I simply don’t have time to write! No, I simply don’t make time to create. That has to change.
It might mean saying no to more social occasions because now that I’m out of credit card debt, it’s time to rebuild my savings. (And pay for a wedding.) That’s fine. I’ll have the time to create a fun environment in my own apartment for friends to enjoy.
So. Who’s with me!?
As I was skimming the Boston Globe on Wednesday morning on my way into work, a headline caught my attention. “For inspiration, writers turn to Hollywood.”
The hardcover comes first. Then the movie. Then the paperback emblazoned with the words “Now a major motion picture!” Everyone knows that. But the usual order is being upended this week, as not one, but two of Boston’s best-selling writers […] are publishing novels that were inspired by Hollywood, not the other way around.
Full disclosure: I’m a woman with a bachelors in creative writing who’s never had a fiction piece published anywhere. Nor am I knocking the need for fiction or creative nonfiction writers to hustle. It’s hard out there for a writer and these fine wordsmiths want the finer things in life, like shelter and food.
But are you people nuts?!
A perfunctory search brings up dozens of results of mainstream media and bloggers ruminating on the dearth of ideas coming out of Hollywood in recent years. Even successful movies, like the very fun Lego Movie, have already had some part of their creative universe decided for them. For the love of all that’s good and right, someone bought the right to make a Peeps movie. Yes, a movie about the worst Easter candy is coming to a theater near you.
Getting ideas from the people who paid money to make movies about pink marshmallows should be a last resort for writers. What happened to watching people on the subway or at a restaurant and imagining their lives? Why not read Reddit or a community newspaper or whatever source you like looking for real-life stories from which you can draw inspiration, as local boy Andre Dubus III did for monster hit novel (and movie!) The House of Sand and Fog?
I’m all for film adaptations of books. (I can’t wait debate the merits of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild versus the Reese Witherspoon film adaptation.) But I believe that authors can dive deeper into the internal universe of the human experience. Let the filmmakers have all the Peeps they want. Writers should be developing their own ideas and optioning the rights later.