More Than 1M Sold: Harper Lee’s ‘Watchman’

More than 1M sold — that’s the buzz surrounding Harper Lee’s latest work, Go Set a Watchman, after her one and only other book, To Kill a Mockingbird, won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Published by HarperCollins on July 14, 2015, Go Set a Watchman topped 1.1 million print and non-print copies sold in a week, earning the record of “most pre-ordered book” since the last of the Harry Potter series in 2007, according to Reuters.

HarperCollins announced that it ordered additional copies of Go Set a Watchman several times, leading to a North American print run of 3.3 million books to date. HarperCollins Chief Executive Brian Murray said that Go Set a Watchman in hardcover is outselling the digital edition by a factor of two-to-one, the Wall Street Journal indicated.

Harper Lee, now 89 years old, released her more-than-1M-sold book 55 years after her first published work about a racially torn American South. While touted as a sequel to her prize-winning classic, her second book is actually an early draft of the first. Many of the same characters appear in both books because To Kill a Mockingbird is essentially a re-write of the early draft of the “more than 1M sold” fame. The idealistic hero in To Kill a Mockingbird, young lawyer Atticus Finch, defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. In Go Set a Watchman, the same Atticus Finch is a bigoted racist who advocates segregation.

The first draft was rejected by her publisher in the 1950s in favor of a re-work. As a result, Lee turned Finch into a noble character who would put his career at stake to defend a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

To Kill a Mockingbird was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1962 by director Robert Mulligan, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout. Critically acclaimed to be one of the greatest films ever made, it won three Academy Awards. The character Atticus Finch was cited by the American Film Institute as the greatest movie hero of the twentieth century. The movie resonated well in the sixties with its theme of dignity in the face of violence, intolerance, and racial prejudice.

Prior to its publication, the sequel, or first draft, was discovered in a safety deposit box by Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, according to the Telegraph. Published unedited, Go Set a Watchman is drawing such comments as “simplistic and problematic” (the New York Times), and “an anxious work in progress” (the Telegraph), which do not negate its more-than-1M-sold status.

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