Comparing Harper Lee’s Two Books

Go Set a Watchman is out and in the hands of readers around the globe. It’s been interesting to see how people respond to the story in the book, but it’s been absolutely fascinating watching how people respond to the story of the book itself.

A quick snapshot of the evolution of the book:

Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first back in the 1950’s. Her editor said something like ‘I’m more interested in the backstory’. So Harper Lee wrote the prequel which became To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960.

I’m not sure Lee ever expected Go Set a Watchman to ever be published.

Taking this path to life into account and realizing how books are written the folks at Quartz ran both books through their computers to compare the texts to see if there were any similarities. What author wouldn’t take awesome passages from a finished manuscript and re-use them in a newer, updated book of another title? Especially if they never thought the original had a shot of seeing the light of day.

You can click through and read the passages that Lee and her editor copied over verbatim and where the revisions are. What is interesting is that all of the ones Quartz shares appear later in To Kill a Mockingbird than they do in Go Set a Watchman. You begin to get a sense of how Lee constructs each story when you realize that so many descriptive and background passages appear up front on the newly released book, but appear much later in the earlier released novel. It sheds some light on what the priorities of each book are.

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Honestly, I was surprised there isn’t more recycling going on. Harper Lee truly did the work and created a new book back in the 1950’s.

Harper Lee’s new book is already a huge success commercially and people will be debating its authenticity and providence for years to come (so many conspiracy theories!).  But no matter how you feel about Atticus and Scout, this one (and any future books – conspiracy alert!) is a wonderful and rare look at Harper Lee’s methods for readers, researchers and students of storytelling.