Go Set a Watchman and Reading as a Writer

There is so much noise surrounding today’s publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman that I’m sure you don’t need my contribution, but here’s my initial take anyway: whether this book is worthy or not, it’s presence accomplishes a particular transfer of experience–readers of the new book are reading as writers read. They are analyzing every element of the new work through the filter of authorial and editorial decision.

This certainly happens in other media, especially series work with canonically built arcs, but I think this is a different moment, say, than the Star Wars prequels. Mockingbird has been delivered to us as a conventional book release, but also over the past 55 years via school reading lists, nostalgia, and other cheap vehicles–to say the least its readership is a broad, demographic-smashing one, and everyone is an expert.

I’m half sad, half grateful for the phenomenon. On the one hand, reading like a writer means that absorptive experiences are harder to access–suspension of disbelief is a fragile condition for a writer. On the other hand, we have a rare opportunity to share ideas about construction and constructed-ness as we test the resilience of the original book and our memories.

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