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Friday, February 6, 2015

To Cage a Mockingbird

..and try to turn it into a goose that lays golden eggs. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
John James Audubon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That's what this whole episode of the announcement of the publishing of a new 'sequel' to Harper Lee's iconic To Kill a Mockingbird smacks of.

The picture on the right seems oddly apropos of the current story of Harper Lee and her 'new old book' due to come out in July this year, already a bestseller well ahead of its publication.

A group of mockingbirds trying to defend the nest against a predatory snake bring to mind the familial barriers protecting Harper Lee against the media onslaught and unscrupulous agents and others who tried to get her to publish 'just another novel', even after she decided not to attempt it after the adulation received by "To Kill a Mockingbird." Her elder sister Alice, who died last November, was her fierce protector, till she grew too frail herself.

I had, many years ago, blogged about the dirty underbelly of the publishing industry, and how they specialize in ghostwritten polishes of mediocre follow-ups to massively popular first books. Or what should have been single or dual books being drawn out into three or four with filler ghostwritten material, just to 'string them along' longer and make more money from the readers and massive audience for blockbuster movies based on blockbuster book series.

As I mentioned to my friend Ruchira, of erstwhile Accidental Blogger, after reading these:  Guardian article1 and Guardian article 2,  I'm starting to wonder if, rather than a full-fledged novel manuscript for Go Set a Watchman, there is a faint outline by Harper Lee  which is going to be edited to resemble the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' stylistically by persons unknown, who stand to benefit more by its publication than Harper Lee herself.

This New York Times article avers that Harper Lee has authorized the publication of the new book, in a signed comment, drafted undoubtedly by her lawyer, Tonja Brooks Carter, who took over purporting to represent Harper Lee's interests after Harper's elder sister Alice Lee,a sharp-as-a-tack lawyer herself, who retired only at the age of 98, passed away three months ago at the age of 103.

Historian Wayne Flynt opines that, far from the fragile mental and physical condition portrayed of Harper Lee in the media in the more recent years (these not-too-complimentary articles insist that she was in failing shape), she is in great shape mentally, lucid and cogent whenever she met him.In addition he is thrilled at the prospect of  more sequels. Which makes me wonder how much of a cut of the proceeds from the sales of the new book he was promised.  Maybe I am being too cynical, but  statements like the one he made (see below) make me suspicious.
"Flynt said that if the new book is successful, maybe it won't be the last.
"It does make you hope that we won't have just one reprise of the book," he said. "Maybe there are several more."

If this becomes a blockbuster, watch out for the miraculous discovery of the long-lost 'Atticus' manuscript, probably timed to release when the hype over Go Set a Watchman fades away.

This also raises the question as to what happened when Ms.Lee had episodes of being less lucid and cogent. Could someone sneak documents and statements to her that she might sign without question? What of the mysterious (criminal defense background primarily) lawyer who is calling all the shots, releasing Harper Lee's purported statements about how humbled and amazed she is at the publishing of her book (rather contrary to the reclusiveness and bluntness which characterized Lee in earlier times) Here is an interesting blog post about Carter's lawyering  from Pam Dae,a blogger who has been trying to get more information about her.

As far as conflict of interest and monetary remuneration goes, Carter stands to gain a lot of money from the process of representing Harper Lee in these dealings, maybe even enough to recoup her investment from the now-closed restaurant that Carter and her husband opened in Monroeville, Alabama a few years ago.

Mockingbirds shouldn't be killed, nor should they be caged and made to sing sad songs of captivity.

 Nor should the lesser music of other birds be passed of as the song of the caged mockingbird.

P.S: And all this may yet turn out to be a tempest in a teapot, but short of actually having Ms.Lee come out and speak about her consent to all this in public, suppositions of 'elder-exploitation' are not going to be laid to rest.

Update:
 The state of Alabama is quietly investigating allegations of elder abuse with regards to Harper Lee. See this NYTimes article.

A DHR investigation continues, but a State Security commission investigation has been closed based on 'satisfactory answers' from Harper Lee to the investigators.

An intrepid reporter who attempted to get a direct interview with Harper Lee a little over a month ago got a precious response, a handwritten "Go away" missive signed by her.

See a change to my thoughts and suspicions regarding the whole affair here.


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