Last month, we drove through Monroeville, Ala., on the way to somewhere else. We went out of our way to visit author Harper Lee's hometown and order a couple of copies of her new book "Go Set a Watchman" from a bookstore not far from the courthouse she made iconic in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
It was a side trip, that's all.
It's kind of like reading "Go Set a Watchman" -- it's a side trip. The real literary and moral destination was outlined in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Five chapters into "Watchman," I am not qualified to offer an opinion. But there are those who are. You know, English teachers, the very people who have made certain that high school students across the land read the 1960 classic.
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Rebecca Hagues is an English as a second language teacher at Blackmon Road Middle School and Shaw High School. She read "Watchman" shortly after it was released two weeks ago. Hagues calls it an "unpolished work with flashes of brilliance."
Hagues supports the release of the book, which was written prior to "Mockingbird" and served as much of the backdrop of "Mockingbird."
"I bought it, so I supported the release, but I worry it wasn't truly what Harper Lee wanted," Hagues said. "It's certainly good fodder for discussion. ... It should have been released after more thorough editing."
Carol Wingard, a longtime English and literature teacher who retired from Columbus High, is not as kind. She bluntly suggests that "the 'Watchman' killed the 'Mockingbird.'"
"I will never look at my favorite book in the same way," Wingard said. "I taught this book in American Literature for years. I used it to show that equality does matter to people of integrity. The total change in Atticus is heart-breaking."
Wingard is equally critical of the writing.
"So many things about this book stink, including the writing," Wingard wrote on her Facebook page. "If I had picked up this book, with no knowledge of Harper Lee or 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' I would not have made it past the first chapter. I can see why the publisher -- or editor or whoever -- sent Lee home to write a book about Scout as a young girl. Those scenes are the only ones that hint at wit or style."
That is a tough criticism. But it's a fair question to ask of a book that was on the publisher's shelf for more than 60 years.
The book so disillusioned Wingard, that she questions whether Lee even wrote "Mockingbird." There has long been a theory that Truman Capote, Lee's childhood friend and inspiration for the character Dill in "Mockingbird" and "Watchman," played a pivotal role in the writing of "Mockingbird."
"In reading the childhood scenes, the similarity to Truman Capote's stories is striking," Wingard said. "In reading many articles and books on both Lee and Capote, I learned that each helped the other extensively on their work. I am beginning to think 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'In Cold Blood' should have both Lee's and Capote's names listed as co-authors on both books."
Not every English teacher is as critical. One of my high school teachers, Jean Thomas at Lakeside School in Eufaula, doesn't see it in a bad light.
"I would rate four stars now and after another read or two, it may rate five," Thomas said. "I truly loved the last few chapters and Uncle Jack's handling of Jean Louise and her outrage."
For Thomas, "Watchman" can stand on its own merit.
"Thankful we have both novels that are so reflective of attitudes, actions and descriptive phrases," she said. "I grew up in a small community and can identify with so many instances in both novels. Happy that we have these examples of Southern Literature for posterity. I am a fan of Harper Lee and will continue to read and watch specials about the controversies that have emerged."
If Hagues were grading "Watchman," what would she give it?
"C," she said.
The great Harper Lee would not want Wingard grading her newest book.
"As an AP English Reader for the College Board, I assign drafts of essays a score out of 9," Wingard said. "On that scale, I would give the book a 4 for "undeveloped, immature writing, lack of organization."
Like most things Harper Lee, the discussion about "Watchman" is broad and the opinions varied.