RIP Harper Lee, America’s Literary Sweetheart

I was feeling cheery this Friday morning and was brainstorming my next blog post, when I clicked through my RSS feed and this news broke my heart.

It’s not that I was surprised that Lee passed away, given that she was 89 and in failing health. It’s that a light has gone out in American culture. As the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee has shaped our views on race relations, the justice system, and what it means to be a true patriot. In a sense, it’s as if Lee and Atticus Finch were synonymous in our minds, and today we are all Scout mourning the loss of a parent.

I can only hope that Lee found peace in her last years, and that her lawyers and publishers respect her final wishes. I’ve already discussed why I won’t be reading Go Set a Watchman, given the controversy surrounding its release, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t hold Lee’s words dear. In fact, it only seems right that I share some of my favorite quotes from America’s literary sweetheart:

On reading: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

On equality: “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

On courage: “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

I could write pages and pages worth of gratitude, but my words would never deliver as much impact as yours have. Thank you for all that you have done, Harper Lee. The world will surely miss you.

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Top Ten Authors I Quit Reading

Weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I’m finally back from visiting my family and working in NYC for an industry conference, and although I’m a die-hard fan of summertime, I have to admit that I’m looking forward to fall! Not for the weather of course, especially given that Hurricane Joaquin made it rainy and miserable on the East Coast, but because this is the season of new books!

Avid readers everywhere are feeling overwhelmed by all the recent releases, and my to-read list is growing longer by the minute! However, life is relatively short, and if I keep up my pace of reading 20 books per year, that means that I will only complete 1,500 more books (assuming I kick the bucket at 100).

Thus, my precious time on earth should not be wasted on crappy books. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is about quitting. Whether we’re discussing reading habits or tired tropes, book bloggers are revealing what they just don’t have the time and energy for anymore.

I hereby draw the line in the sand: These are the top 10 authors I have officially quit reading:

Author Collage 1

1. William Faulkner: There are three words that define my biggest literary pet peeve, and they are “stream of consciousness.” Do you enjoy the incoherent ramblings of someone who refuses to use correct punctuation? Then by all means, go Faulkner yourself.

2. Virginia Woolf: See #1 above and include entire plots involving people who say that they’re going to do something but then procrastinate the whole novel before actually doing it.

3. Herman Melville: Fishing is boring, but reading about fishing should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Melville’s other claim to fame? Writing about people who write legal documents. He might as well be the literary equivalent of watching paint dry while waiting at the DMV.

4. Toni Morrison: I can certainly appreciate what Morrison has done to expand cultural diversity and give voice to the African-American community. However, I will argue that there are plenty of other authors out there who can check my white privilege without having to write about demon babies. Beloved? More like Disappointed.

5. E.L. James: Not sure if I can say that I’ve truly “read” E.L. James, but I think that the preview pages on Amazon were more than enough evidence that this author is doing a disservice to the genre of erotica. James is now my literary inspiration–in that, if this hack can make millions, then why can’t I?

Author Collage 2

6. Marian Keyes: I know nothing about Marian Keyes, other than This Charming Man was the least charming book of all time. What I thought would be lighthearted chick-lit turned out to be a clusterfuck of domestic abuse, coerced abortion, and sexual assault, and frankly I’m too disturbed to give her another try.

7. David Sedaris: Sometimes society pressures you to want to do certain things, like run a marathon, go gluten-free, or read David Sedaris. I have now realized that the type of person who likes all these things is otherwise known as “pretentious as hell.” I’ll stick to writers who are funny without being smug and condescending, thanks.

8. C.S. Lewis: Even when I first read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I knew that something was not quite right with Lewis. Why couldn’t the female characters fight in battle? Why is Susan excommunicated from Narnia after she reaches puberty and shows an interest in makeup? Fantasy tales should be about escaping the limitations and discriminations of the real world, not bolstering them. Pick up His Dark Materials and Harry Potter instead to read about empowered young women.

9. Orson Scott Card: Like Lewis, Card is an evangelical who puts a bad taste in my mouth. Although I enjoyed Ender’s Game and did not see any specific influences from Mormonism in the novel, I cannot ethically support an author well-known for his bigotry against the LGBTQ. Obviously, I realize that there are many writers who share his views, but at least they have the common sense to keep quiet.

10. Harper Lee: Okay, before you all scream bloody murder, hear me out. I agree that Lee is America’s Literary Sweetheart and that To Kill a Mockingbird is a national treasure. But this list is about the authors that I quit reading, and I refuse to pay a dime to Lee’s lawyers and publishers, who I believe are taking advantage of an elderly woman of enormous wealth. As much as I would love to read more about Scout and Atticus, I don’t trust the circumstances surrounding the publication of Go Set a Watchman enough to do so.

So what do you think of this list? Are my judgments too harsh, or do you agree that these authors are worth quitting? Share your opinions in the comments!

Why You Should Not Celebrate the New Harper Lee Novel

Image via Jezebel

A couple days ago, the world imploded with the news that Harper Lee, America’s literary sweetheart, will be publishing a new book 55 years after her debut, which is set for release this summer.

The novel, Go Set a Watchman, is not so much a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird as it is a first draft. It features Scout as an adult twenty years after the story of TKAM; preferring the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, Lee’s editor requested that Scout’s point of view be written entirely during that period of time. Lee, ever the people-pleaser, stated that, “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.”

That attitude is exactly why fans should hesitate rejoicing over this new release. Today Harper Lee is 88 years old and going increasingly blind and deaf with age. Needless to say, she is not in an ideal mental state and is extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

This book’s publication would not be the first time that someone has tried to screw Lee over. The author filed two lawsuits in 2013: one over an alleged attempt to get her to sign over her copyright to TKAM, and the other against a local museum profiting off her prestige without compensation.

The news of this new book comes at a suspicious time, only a few months after Lee’s sister and lawyer Alice passed away at the age of 103. Lee has no children and now her entire estate is at risk, thanks to the whims of her editors and their lawyers.

The poor woman lives in a nursing home, can’t see or read, and has been known to sign anything put in front of her. Why, after decades of intense privacy, would Lee publish a story? Why are her editors so interested in this book which had been previously written off as a subpar first draft? And why has this release been timed so soon after the death of her sister and former legal counsel?

If you don’t agree with my skepticism, check out Jezebel’s critique and follow-up of the news. Then read The Toast’s scathing response to the interview given by Lee’s editor at HarperCollins, Hugh Van Dusen. Here are the most alarming statements he gave:

Q: Harper is a famously private person. Does she have any ambivalence about the fact that the publication of the book is going to result in a lot of new publicity?
A: I don’t think so. In our press release she says…

Q: Has the book been edited? Or is what will eventually be on bookshelves untouched from what was in the safety deposit box?
A: If it has been edited, nobody’s told me.

Q: Has there been any direct contact about the book between Harper and HarperCollins? Or is it all down through intermediaries?
A: Are you asking if we’ve been in touch with her directly? I don’t know, but I don’t think so, only because she’s very deaf and going blind. So it’s difficult to give her a phone call, you know?

Q: Is it fair to say that Harper won’t be talking to the media now that she’s got a new book out?
A: I don’t think anything there’s going to be anything more revealing than what’s in the press release.

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a ton of BS. I fear that these snakes are coercing her into signing away her fortune. TKAM has sold over 40 million copies, and now everyone is hoping to profit off this impending jackpot while Lee quietly lives out the end of her days.

I hate to be a buzzkill, because I love TKAM as much as the next person. It is the quintessential ‘Great American Novel,’ and its critique of race relations in the South is just as timely today as it was half a century ago. TKAM is a national treasure, and I worry that Harper Lee is about to get her treasure taken away from her.

So how do you feel about Go Set a Watchman? Are you ready to “Go Set” a preorder, or do you think Harper Lee needs her own “Watchman” over her threatened estate?