TERRY DULLUM — The Dullum File: ‘Go Set A Watchman’

Like a couple of million other people who have preordered the “new” Harper Lee novel “Go Set A Watchman,” I’ve been eagerly awaiting the book’s publication date next week. A couple of million is no exaggeration, by the way. It is the biggest preorder ever for HarperCollins. It’s being hyped as the biggest publishing event in several years.

“Go Set a Watchman” is just the second book to be published by the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and generally is considered to be an American classic.

Of course, there has to be controversy to go along its the publication of “Go Set A Watchman,” this being America. There are questions about how the book’s manuscript was discovered and when, among others. How keen the elderly and intensely private author was to have her earlier work published. And whether “Go Set a Watchman,” which takes place about 20 years later, was a “first draft” of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The reclusive Lee hasn’t given an interview since the mid-1960’s. All of which adds to the mystery and, for me, the fun.

Earlier this summer I reread “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was first published in 1960. I’m glad I did. The story of race and racism set in a fictional Southern town is at least as good as I remembered it. Maybe better. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes more than once. I don’t recall if that was the case the first time around.

The last time I read it I was in the ninth or 10th grade at Hillsboro (N.D.) High School. It was assigned for our entire class as part of our English curriculum. It was an eye-opener for kids growing up in North Dakota, me anyway. Race and rape are not easy subjects for high schoolers to absorb. At least they weren’t for me 50 years ago. But the book is also warm and appealing.

Maybe we’ll see starting next week if “Watchman” will be anything of an eye-opener for this generation of nineth-graders.

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