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20 February 2016

Pondering Harper Lee's Motivations in Life

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird and  Go Set a Watchman, died yesterday, after leading a very private life.

And today, people still ponder why she wrote only two books of which only one was published 56 years later than the other, at aged 89.   Go Set a Watchman, to many, looked like it had been written when Lee was very young, maybe even before To Kill a Mockingbird (even although it is considered a "sequel") or was not subject to the reportedly rigorous editing and re-writes of the one published in 1959, resulting in sales of over 30 or 40 million copies (depending on the source) worldwide.  Did she need the money?  Did she want one less hurrah before she died?  Did she want to prove that she had written To Kill a Mockingbird by presenting another (there are rumors that she had not; even that it was her very good friend Truman Capote who had written it).  Was she trying to boost sales of the first book, because its legacy was tied to a foundation doing good works for her beloved hometown?  Did she just have perfect timing as race becomes again a hot topic of discussion in this year of Ferguson, MO, and Charleston, SC?  Or, was she influenced by those with their own agendas, physically and mentally incapable of speaking for herself about whether she even wanted the book published?

NPR had some very good remembrances on air yesterday and today, denying she was a "recluse," just very private, and also that she indeed wrote Go Set a Watchman first.  We learn that she wrote to create a tribute to her father, whom she considered a most honorable man.  The speculations continue, though.

When I read the first few pages of Julia Claibourne Johnson's Be Frank with Me, it seemed like a speculation on Harper Lee's life. What if... What if she had fallen in love with a Hollywood actor (like Gregory Peck?) and had a son? What if she needed to write a book to provide for that son after losing everything in a Bernie Madoff-type investment scam? What if she had been writing all along during her reclusive life after her first big book and someone had simply to release them out to the world? Let's take those speculations and run with them. Of course, it diverges from the "what ifs" to become quite a satisfying read, a thinking chick's lit. 

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