A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I’m never going to read Go Set A Watchman. I don’t have an intellectual argument to justify why — I’m just not going to do it. I grew up with To Kill A Mockingbird, and I like Scout and Atticus the way they are. So I intend to keep them that way. Actually, there’s going to be enough written about the book that, when it comes up in conversation, I’m just going to lie. I’ve done it for years about Moby’s Dick, so it’s no big deal. (Yeah! Right! Like you’ve never done that?)
You see, my fictional friends are dear to me. I’ve known most of them for years. We’ve shared a lot of life together, and we know each other well. They’ve always been there. We’ve endured mindless jobs, troubled nights, one endlessly miserable childhood vacation, a couple of failed love affairs and tons of other experiences. We’ve spent hot summer days, rainy nights, hangovers, illnesses and any number of long, chilly, Sunday afternoons together. We like each other’s company — together alone — and I’ve slept with them on more than one occasion. So if I’m not willing to lie for these people, I’m not a very good friend, am I?
At the end of the day, Harper Lee might be a wonderful person, and she has every right to do whatever she wants with the characters she created. But I don’t know her; we’ve never met. I know the Finch family, I know Boo, I know Tom and a lot of other people in Maycomb County. We met when I was a teenager in Miss Owen’s English class, and they had a bigger influence on me than most of the flesh-and-blood people I knew at the time. Since then, we’ve visited on occasion, and each time they’ve told me a little bit more about themselves, always expanding their story into my accumulating experience. (All my fictional friends respected my youth that way.) These days, we’re comfortable, but I know they still have subtleties they haven’t told me about — yet.
So I plan to visit again, now that Atticus is back in the news. Sometime in the autumn, when the leaves fall and it’s one-quilt cold, I’m going back to Maycomb County and see how everybody’s doing. It will be a good visit, with coffee and (probably) Oreos, and they will tempt me to read Go Set A Watchman, but I’m not going to do it — my old friends are just too precious to me.