Everyone was nervous. In the book world, the build up to GSAW’s publication day was ridiculous. I wasn’t nervous, actually. I did not fret. I paid only cursory attention. I wasn’t even going to read it. But the day it came out I was able to follow along in real time as people read and reacted and I just got too curious not to. It was the readers who got me interested, not the author or the book. So when Harper Collins said they’d send over the audiobook for review I knew I just needed to dive in and see it for myself. (Links are to Amazon & Audible, if you purchase I make a small commission.)
So here’s some of the questions out there about Go Set a Watchman and what you need to know.
Is it terrible?
No. Honestly, the first half of the book was so lovely that I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been edited and felt like it really was a worthy companion to Mockingbird. The second half is different, partly because the last third is made up almost entirely of long conversations and could definitely use some editing, and partly because the subject matter suddenly becomes very difficult and hard to read.
Because Atticus is a racist, right? I heard about that.
Yes, that’s the short version. It’s much more complex than that. But that’s the general gist. As you can imagine, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for us and for Scout.
Oh, Scout. I love her. Is she still awesome?
Yes. Yes, she is. One of the gifts of Watchman is the chance to see Scout go to her first dance, get her first period, and glimpse other childhood flashbacks. As a grown-up she wears pants when she feels like it and lives in New York City. So yeah, she’s still awesome.
What about Jem? And Dill? And Calpurnia?
Too many spoilers. Can’t say.
Is it just a bunch of stuff we already know from To Kill a Mockingbird?
No, there’s some overlapping text but not nearly enough to even be noticeable.
Is it a good audiobook?
Well, since there’s difficult material it makes the audiobook difficult sometimes. As a reader, I tend to skim when I’m uncomfortable to try to get the bad things to go away. But as a listener? No such luxury.
But if you’re definitely going to read this book and you like audiobooks, it’s a good choice. Reese Witherspoon is the reader. I was highly skeptical. But she is fantastic. One of the best readers of any audiobook I’ve read this year. She just felt RIGHT. They must hire her to read To Kill a Mockingbird immediately.
I feel like you’re not really giving me that much information.
I know. I’m sorry. It’s hard because half of this book is just what you want it to be and the other half is just HARD. And it gave me a lot of very complicated feelings. And I’m not sure everyone is ready to jump into those. I have a feeling there will be a lot of book clubs that get heated over this book. Many of its characters are actively, outwardly racist but believe they are doing good. This is a real thing. These people still exist and they’re all around you. And there may be people in your book club who are convinced by their arguments that they really are good people. If your book club is usually a gentle place for chit chat and dessert, it may suddenly become very awkward or angry or who knows what. It is hard to talk about race and racism with your friends and family. I believe it should be done, but that doesn’t make it easy.
I am torn between telling everyone that their book club should read this immediately so that we can move forward on the difficult work that is talking about race, and telling people to maybe be careful about reading it in book clubs. I know those conversations can go to bad places and lead to bad things and it’s hard enough to follow along with Jean Louise as she discovers that the people she loves are not who she thought they were, doing it in real life is much harder. Then again, if your book club read GSAW and then completely ignores race all together in your discussion, that is troubling as well.
This book gives you lots of feels, and many of them are profoundly difficult. It has been less than 24 hours since I read it and I’ve written over 2000 words about it now because I just have to do something and process it and I still don’t really know how. (No, this post is not 2,000 words long. I wrote a couple others, including this one for Book Riot.)
Usually I am all for taking a book knowing as little about it as possible. But with this book, I think you need to be ready. I knew from watching people read it that it took a hairpin turn. And I spent much of it thinking, “I don’t see how this book can make me turn against it,” only to realize later, “Oh, that’s how.”
Over a million copies of Go Set a Watchman have sold, it’s a huge event in the book world, and yet I can’t help but think that no one will be standing around the water cooler or the playground saying, “Did you read it? Me, too! What did you think?” Instead I have a feeling we won’t be talking about it much at all because of all the hard things there are to talk about.
So that’s your info. Do with it what you will. And if you have read the book, consider the comments a safe space to get your feels out. Because I know I’m not the only one who needed to word-dump them somewhere.