I need the long form for this. I’ve been quite complacent about fitting my thoughts into status updates, but I need more space for this. Spoilers ahead, but I frankly do not give a good goddamn who is angry with me. Don’t worry about losing your sense of surprise, just don’t read this book at all.
Back story: when I head that a new manuscript had been discovered, I was thrilled. Not that I’m unique, but Mockingbird is one of my favourite books. I’ve taught it many times, including last year, and I love introducing another generation of teens to the meticulously detailed social commentary hidden in the slow folksy narrative. LOVE IT.
But then doubt was cast. A lot of it. If you haven’t read that Toast article, do yourself a favour and read it in full. My initial happiness fled when Mallory Ortberg pointed out the many inconsistencies and warning flags in this “discovery.” After much soul searching, I decided not to read the “new book.” I consoled myself with the thought that I would be able to read it once Harper had passed, as her death would be the natural time for the buzzards to cash in anyway. And when she died, I asked around and was immediately lent a copy by a run friend, a person to whom I will be returning this copy forthwith.
I started the book on Saturday; I finished it sitting on my front porch, shooing Maggie away so that I could get 3 minutes of peace and finish this monster once and for all.
It’s awful. It’s terrible. It’s an abomination.
It’s not that it was a cynical cash grab; that’s the way this ugly world turns. It’s not that the characters did things I didn’t like; I follow long serials just like everyone else, and I make a point of not complaining about storylines as if I had a right to my wishes. Art is art and we should all be grateful for another chance to hang out with our fictional friends. And it’s not that the book is poorly written or unfit for publication; in fact with a few minor changes to the characters’ identities I would have thoroughly enjoyed it as a penetrating lyric on race politics in the 50’s and 60’s.
And I knew that Atticus was “a bit racist” before I read it. Christ, what a fucking understatement. Some jackass publisher thought it was all right to take Atticus, beautiful, upright, lonely Atticus, and make him into a horrifyingly abstract racist. All of the criticisms of his character – that he may be righteous, but he does right at no cost to himself – have been made horrifyingly true. By releasing this book they have not only shit on one of the finest characters in all of literature, they have managed to shit on Mockingbird, as this book gives Atticus completely different motives for all of his “upright” behaviour. It’s that they inserted a dark catastrophe into the relationship between Calpurnia and Scout. And God help me, I will not be able to read my beloved Mockingbird without knowing the total shit show Maycomb becomes.
I have read books that I didn’t like. I have abandoned books in the middle. But I have never read a book and wished devoutly that I had never started reading it in the first place. This wasn’t just a questionable decision. This was a desecration.
I wish I could hold someone to account. I wish I had been warned. Now the best I can do is stop Mason from reading it, to keep it out of the hands of my children, and to warn all of my students.