Harper Lee

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The release of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird sequel might not actually be as joyous as it seems.

When news of Go Set a Watchman, the author's recently discovered novel, dropped this morning, fans of the 1960s classic immediately celebrated. Despite such critical and commercial success, Lee never published again after Mockingbird, and it's left her legions of followers thirsty for more. But there is also a darker side to the story that's worth looking into—especially out of respect for the famed author. 

The most jarring contradiction to the seemingly happy announcement is the fact that Harper Lee is famously press-averse, choosing to stay out of the public eye and refusing interviews for decades. According to The New York Times, she stopped speaking to the press in 1965, and since then has mainly been heard from through unauthorized biographies and other writings. Many journalists have attempted interviews, of course, and she's reacted with a healthy dose of reproach.

For example, when a former neighbor published a book chronicling the time she spent with Lee and her sister Alice, Lee released a statement saying "Rest assured, as long as I am alive, any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood."

The situation gets more troubling when you consider the author's recent health issues. New York Magazine compiled a detailed account of her decline, but in short she has been wheelchair-bound, mostly deaf and blind, and living in an assisted-living facility since a stroke in 2007. The 88-year-old largely relied on her sister for care and protection from the public eye, but Alice passed away this past November.

Lee's legal affairs were handed down to Tonja Carter, the same person who discovered the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman. And, it should be noted that Vanity Fair has published that Lee often entrusts her legal team to judge contracts and other agreements that she doesn't understand herself.

Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that personal lives are always complicated, and successful celebrities are often surrounded by blown-up drama. It's also worth noting that if Watchman has even half the cultural influence of Mockingbird, it will be quite the contribution—there's certainly nothing inherently bad about bringing an inquisitive new book into the world. 

But it's hard to deny the somewhat sudden release of this sequel doesn't quite fit the pattern of the life that Harper Lee has led for the past half-century. It's important, to us at least, to balance a book's interest with the legacy and wishes of its author. Especially when that same author once told an audience, during a rare public appearance, that "It's better to be silent than to be a fool."

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