Go Read James Baldwin

The new Harper Lee book is not the Harper Lee book we want, but it’s the Harper Lee book we deserve.

Atticus is revealed to harbor anti-integration sentiments. Scout doesn’t know what to do with herself.

It’s not often that the same character gets two separate coming of age stories (unless you’re Harry Potter…then you get 8).

It’s never been hard to understand why Harper Lee didn’t want to release other Finch stories after “To Kill A Mockingbird” become such a touchstone. More stories about Faulkner’s Compsons? Yes. They are flawed and tragic every step of the way. But Atticus had nowhere to go but down, immortalized by a near-Kryptonian Gregory Peck.

I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” too late in life to lionize Atticus. But the non-shock I feel about his revelation as 1950s reactionary (the first literary Dixiecrat) has more to do with social and political history than with the fact that he never made his kids call him “Dad” or that it was, by my Straussian read, Scout and Jem’s antics in the courtroom (a manifestation of Atticus’ crappy parenting) that sealed Tom’s fate in the first place.

If the new book is mostly about Scout being disillusioned by Atticus the Bigot, I’m not very interested. Not because we shouldn’t care about bigotry, but because, really, why should the same upwardly mobile white girl get two bites at that apple? Read James Baldwin instead.

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