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Harper Lee and Dr. Seuss: Should their “new” books have been published?

watchman what petThe more I learn about the publication of the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman, the more bothered I am. Not because Atticus Finch might be less of a hero and more of a racist. I can handle complexity and nuance. But this recent New York Times article tells another story.

This month also saw the posthumous publication of a new Dr. Seuss novel, What Pet Should I Get? I’m bothered by that as well. Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, is a personal hero of mine. I can tell you exactly where I was the day he died. I was devastated, as I was hoping someday to meet the man who changed children’s literature forever. But he died in 1991, and it’s hard to get excited about a book that’s been released so many years after his death.

How do we know this is a book he wanted to publish? As this New York Times article points out, Geisel had many opportunities to send this book in to his publisher and he didn’t. But there are some huge differences between Seuss and Lee. Seuss published many, many books in his lifetime, some under other names, and this book is entirely consistent with other books he published. This may be crass commercialism at work, but it’s not going to change his name or his reputation. And, the publisher who pieced together his work is a woman who worked with him for 11 years.

Harper Lee is an entirely different matter. Lee REFUSED to publish another novel in her lifetime, despite the success of To Kill a Mockingbird. She guarded her work and her name carefully. In 2014, her sister Alice, the executor of her estate, passed away, meaning that someone else now decides what gets published. This manuscript was discovered in 2011, but when Alice Lee was alive she did not authorize its publication.

And here’s the other thing that bothers me: I can’t tell you how many times I hear Watchman described as a sequel to Mockingbird. It’s not. It’s an early draft, not a standalone novel. Lee submitted this draft, got editorial feedback, and changed it to produce the work we know and love. This book should have been released not as a “new novel” but as the early draft it is. In fairness, Harper Collins’ website explains this, but nothing about the cover or marketing of this book would tell you that.

I planned to read this book, but now I think I won’t. Like I said, I don’t mind seeing Atticus Finch in a different light. That’s interesting. I do mind this invasion of an author’s privacy and reputation.  And the fact that she is alive but helpless to stop it bothers me most of all. Harper Collins is making a fortune on the sales of this book (which I’m sorry to say I contributed to). It just doesn’t feel right to me.

6 thoughts on “Harper Lee and Dr. Seuss: Should their “new” books have been published?

  1. Pingback: My July Wrap-Up | The Book Stop

  2. Oh, wow. I actually had no idea about everything with Go Set a Watchman – I knew there was a lot of talk about it, but I hadn’t been following it. I find it pretty abhorrent that they published this as a new book if it was an early draft of TKaM. If Lee didn’t want it read, it shouldn’t have been published. Period. This makes me sad.

    I agree that the Dr. Seuss thing doesn’t seem as bad – especially if the book is pretty much in line with his other books – though it is strange that he never put this one up for publication, and you kind of have to wonder why. Very interesting!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  3. I’ve refused to read any of the posthumous Dr. Seuss books. I believe the first was Daisy Head Maisie, but I’m not sure. I haven’t read TKAMB, so I don’t feel a need to read GSAW. I would have preferred if the manuscript had been donated to a scholarly library.

    • I read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird and I definitely did not know this wasn’t a sequel. Id definitely was marketed that way. I would still recommend TKaM, but haven’t read the other so can’t comment on it.

  4. Pingback: Sunday Post & Giveaways Galore - 8/9/15 - Feed Your Fiction AddictionFeed Your Fiction Addiction

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