The Evolution of Art. (And Why I’m Not Going to Read the New Harper Lee Novel.)

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I’m not a curmudgeon. I’m really not. Plus, I’m on vacation this week and I’m in a pretty good mood. But I’ve decided that I’m not going to read the new Harper Lee novel — Go Set a Watchman. At least I’m not going to read it as a “new” novel from the famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird. As best I can piece together, this “new” novel was actually an early manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet, as often is the case with art, the book evolved. Artists make choices all the time. They change directions. Polish. Perfect. Tear down and start again. With the help of a strong editor, Harper Lee’s manuscript underwent a significant two year evolution before it was published. The story that started out with a bigoted Atticus Finch, became a story of a just and humane lawyer. The story that started out with a young adult Scout railing against her racist family, ended up as a story told by the young girl Scout, innocent but aware. It’s the way art works. It changes and evolves. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to let anything dim To Kill a Mockingbird. Not even a so-called new novel by Harper Lee titled Go Set a Watchman. I’m not going to read it. (Well, not unless a copy mysteriously winds up on my desk.) But if you read it, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, Take a Breath today. I’ll take one too. Maybe more than one. After all, I’m on vacation.

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