Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

On the Fence: ‘Go Set a Watchman’

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blog on the fence go set a watchman

Over the past month, a few patrons have asked me: “Should I read Go Set a Watchman?” After reading the book myself, allow me to answer that question with this rant.

The short answer: No.

The long answer: Probably not, unless you have a special interest in the craft of fiction.

First of all, let me clear something up: Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, even though its publishers have implied that in their pitch to sell it. The two books feature characters that differ in personality and just happen to share the same names. While it’s true that Go Set a Watchman is an early draft of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, I will keep them separate in my mind forever and always. Go Set a Watchman is the caterpillar; To Kill a Mockingbird is the butterfly.

Like many Americans, To Kill a Mockingbird holds a special place in my heart. I’ve read it many times at different points in my life and always find something new to contemplate. When I was a teenager, I was taken with the portrayal of a seemingly idyllic childhood: I envied Scout’s freedom and precociousness. When I was in college, I pined for a parental figure like Atticus or Calpurnia who could always tell me what was morally right. But, recently, as racial tension thickens amid accusations of mistreatment toward black Americans by law enforcement especially, the racism theme in To Kill a Mockingbird has never made more sense to me.

Go Set a Watchman touches on many of the same themes as To Kill a Mockingbird, but Mockingbird’s message is much more powerful because Scout’s “awakening” to the injustice in the world coincides with her coming of age. Go Set a Watchman, in contrast, features an adult woman whose own awakening is much more convoluted and has a sense of hopelessness. As for the writing, I think we can all agree that To Kill a Mockingbird is an amazing work of art, while Go Set a Watchman is anything but; the text tends to ramble with clumsy attempts at flashbacks that seemingly have little to do with the story itself. From a writer’s perspective, on the other hand, reading Go Set a Watchman is an eye-opening look into how a story progresses from concept to classic.

That’s not to say that there isn’t anything redeeming in a literary sense about Go Set a Watchman; at the very least it attempts to be a much more complex novel than To Kill a Mockingbird. But, in the end, To Kill a Mockingbird is a better book given its subject matter. I’ll take Scout’s optimistic outlook over Jean Louise’s gloomy one any day.

But don’t take my word for it. Check the PPLC Catalog for Go Set a Watchman.

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