Alabama Bookshelf: July 2015
Each month, we offer a summary of recent books either about Alabama people or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions and events to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee, HarperCollins, July 2015, $27.99
This newly discovered novel is the earliest known work from Monroeville native Harper Lee, who penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. According to the publisher, it was originally written in the mid-1950s and was the first novel Lee submitted to the publishers (before TKAM).
Its discovery in late 2014 set the literary world on fire.
“I was surprised by the announcement on Feb. 3 of a second novel to be published. Not that there is a second novel, but what it is,” said Nancy Anderson, associate professor of English at Auburn Montgomery who has extensively studied Lee and TKAM. “I expected a second novel to be ‘The Reverend,’ the nonfiction novel about the series of murders in Alexander City in the 1970s.” Lee traveled to Alexander City in the late 1970s to research that book, but no manuscript has ever been found.
Anderson, like other TKAM scholars and readers alike, is eager for the new work’s release, but hopes readers will put the new book in the proper context.
“I do hope that readers and reviewers remember that it was a first draft of TKAM, even if the publisher has labeled it ‘a sequel.’ It is a sequel in chronology — Jean Louise returning to Maycomb in the 1950s to visit her father. Harper Lee has called it ‘the parent’ rather than the sequel.”
Anderson also hopes the new book will shed light on questions raised by TKAM.
“For example, readers have always wondered how old Jean Louise is when she is recalling her childhood in TKAM. Now we may have the answer to that question: if ‘Go Set a Watchman’ is the plot rewritten for TKAM, perhaps this is Jean Louise in the 1950s recalling her childhood,” Anderson says.
She’s tempering her excitement with a small dose of reality. “I am excited about the release and cannot wait to read it, but I am also being realistic in reminding myself not to expect another TKAM.”
Mildred Budge in Embankment, by Daphne Simpkins, Quotidian Books, January 2015, $11.50
This second full-length Mildred Budge novel follows the retired school teacher and full-time church lady as she leads her fellow church members to safety after the car in which they were traveling wrecks on a desolate road. The journey is not just a physical one; she experiences new spiritual adventures as she continues to “work out her salvation” within the context of friendships and church relationships.
In the Land of Cotton: How Old Times There Still Shape Alabama’s Future, by Larry Lee, NewSouth Books, Spring 2015, $7.95
The early 19th century was a time of prosperity in Alabama, thanks in large part to the bountiful cotton that fed the hungry mills of England. But the cotton culture valued manual labor over a keen mind; this mentality, the author says, trapped thousands of Alabamians in a cycle of poverty and lack of education. Author Lee is an expert in rural development who is interested in education issues.