World awaits new Harper Lee novel

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, one of the most anticipated books in recent memory, arrives on July 14 to record preorders, intense curiosity and Harry Potter-style enthusiasm among booksellers.

And why not? This is only the second book by the reclusive author of the beloved 1960 Southern classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, which has sold 40 million copies worldwide.

Harper Collins says Watchman is the most preordered book in company history. The publisher plans a first printing of 2 million hardcover copies under its Harper imprint (there also will be an e-book). The book is embargoed and tightly held by the publisher.

“We never thought we’d be publishing another book by Harper Lee,” says Tina Andreadis, senior vice president of publicity for HarperCollins. “This amazing discovery has created such incredible interest.”

In February, the publisher announced that the Watchman manuscript, long thought lost, had been found by Lee’s lawyer. Lee wrote the book in the 1950s; it features Mockingbird‘s Scout Finch as an adult. At her editor’s urging, Lee instead turned to the Depression-era story of Scout as a child; her lawyer-father, Atticus; and a racially inflamed rape trial in a small Southern town.

Charles J. Shields, author of the biography Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, has not read Watchman, but he believes “it’s the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.”

What should readers expect?

“I will be grateful if Go Set a Watchman is another 20th-century Huck Finn, like To Kill a Mockingbird was. But as a literary biographer, that’s just not what I’ve seen,” Shields says. “First efforts tend to be ugly babies.”

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