Harper Lee book flies out of stores -- to mixed reviews

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES, Jennie Matthew- Harper Lee's second novel flew out of stores Tuesday in one of the most eagerly anticipated book releases in modern publishing history and half a century after her masterpiece "To Kill a Mockingbird" hit the shelves.
In Lee's hometown of Monroeville in Alabama, where the 89-year-old lives in strict privacy at a nursing home, queues stretched out of bookshop doors to snap up copies of "Go Set a Watchman," and some stores in the United States and London opened at midnight for the occasion.

The Ol' Curiosities & Book Shoppe in Monroeville, which is selling special editions with embossed title pages, laid on a 12:00 am launch party before reopening their doors to brisk morning trade.
"We have so much going on right now and so many customers, we've got people out the door," said one woman who answered the telephone, too busy to give more details.
Bookshops courting die-hard Lee fans celebrated the big moment by laying on readings, talks and "Mockingbird" film screenings.
Lee's only previous novel is considered a 20th Century classic that defined racial injustice in the Depression-era South of the United States and became standard reading in classrooms across the world.
Published in 1960, "To Kill a Mockingbird" was translated into more than 40 languages and adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck.
The literary world was upended when HarperCollins announced in February that it was publishing a second novel, seemingly discovered from Lee's safe-deposit box in still-unclear circumstances.
Lee wrote the manuscript in the late 1950s, but her then-editor suggested she recast the book from the childhood perspective of Scout, which in turn became "Mockingbird."
- Troubling confusion -
Pre-orders turned "Watchman" into an overnight number one bestseller at online retailer Amazon, and publisher HarperCollins has ordered a first print run of two million copies.
But many Lee fans have been hurt, embarrassed and even angered that Scout's adored father Atticus has turned into a bigot, a fall from grace for one of America's most loved literary heroes.
In New York, relatively few took advantage of the special 7:00 am opening time at Barnes and Noble's flagship store on Fifth Avenue.
Mekdad Muthana, a 25-year-old Yemeni student living and working in the United States, said he was passionate about books and originally read "Mockingbird" in high school.
"I would do anything to support writers and great books like this one so I decided to be here early," he said. "It's a part of the history of this country -- racism, segregation."
Mikayla Webber, 20, from Tennessee, said "Mockingbird" is her favorite book and dismissed the poor reviews about its sequel.
"I think that it will still be really good, one of those you have to re-read over and over," she told AFP. "I hope she will release another one, that would be awesome."
Reviews have been charitable at best, scathing at worst.
While some critics emphasize the merit in plotting Lee's development as a writer, others, such as National Public Radio, dismissed it as a "troubling confusion of a novel."
- 'Wonderful bits' -
Diane Roberts, an English professor at Florida State University who specializes in Southern culture, told AFP that "Watchman" is nowhere near as polished as "Mockingbird," but still has "wonderful bits."
"Atticus Finch turns out to be a product of his time," she said, adding the latest book reflected Lee's anger toward 1950s bigotry.
"Its responding to what's happening in the civil rights movement. This was terrifying to people in the South, even to good white people in the South, progressive white people," she said.
"I can just feel millions of libraries go, 'oh boy how do we explain this one to the kids'."
Some fans have been left hoping there may also be a third book, as hinted by Lee's lawyer in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.
Rumors have also refused to die that Lee, who suffered a stroke and is hard of hearing, may have been manipulated into releasing the book.
Friends and acquittances insist she is still a woman who knows her own mind.
Mary McDonagh Murphy, a filmmaker whose program about Lee aired recently on PBS, told AFP that they had briefly communicated by writing down notes when they met last month.
"Don't be silly, of course I did," Murphy quoted Lee as saying when asked if she ever thought she would see "Watchman" published.

Tuesday, July 14th 2015
Jennie Matthew

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