Audio Book Review: Go Set A Watchman And To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman CoverGo Set A Watchman by Harper Lee, Narrated by Reese Witherspoon

Published July 2015 by HarperAudio|Length: 7 hours

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction/Historical Fiction

Blog Graphic-What It's About

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision – a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

My Thoughts: First off, I thought I’d talk about the two books together, because it just seems like it’s going to be was going to be a lot easier than reviewing them separately.  It’s definitely going to be all over the place, but I do plan on talking about Go Set A Watchman, then To Kill A Mockingbird, and then my final thoughts on both.  It is going to be a fairly long post.

I don’t even know what to think about Go Set A Watchman (henceforth known as Watchman).  If you haven’t read it, and you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird (furthermore known as Mockingbird), you will be glad to know that you do not need to read Mockingbird before Watchman.  Watchman, while taking place in the same world, with the same characters as Mockingbird, is a stand-alone (to me, but that seems to be up for debate).  If it’s been a while, some of the events of Mockingbird were mentioned, but for the most part, Watchman is a completely separate story.  I actually found that this post over at Book Riot to be super-helpful. In all honesty, and after having read Mockingbird immediately after Watchman, I am glad I read Watchman first, and then Mockingbird.

The timeline didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  It takes place over the course of 2 or 3 days, but so much happened that it seemed like it took place over a longer span of time.  I think part of it is that the flashbacks of her childhood were scattered throughout the book, which made it seem like more was going on.  I think the flashbacks were fairly clunky, and it felt like they randomly appeared and disappeared.  I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I listened to Watchman, and from listening, it was slightly odd.  Maybe they didn’t translate well to audio, at least in this case.  I did like seeing how she remembered Maycomb and the people that live there, and it really is through those flashbacks that we see the story that would become Mockingbird.

Still, I was struck by how much Jean Louise idealized Maycomb and the people who live there, especially her father, and how hard it was for her when everything was challenged.  It’s amazing how things haven’t changed all that much, and how relevant some of the arguments made in the book still come up today, especially with everything going on recently.  I think we need Jean Louise to have her father and town on a pedestal, and we really need that in order to understand why it’s so hard for her to deal with it.

And the narration!  I thought Reese Witherspoon did a wonderful job narrating.  I was initially surprised (but I don’t know who else I’d pick to narrate), but she was a good choice for a narrator.

Rating: I’m not sure what to rate Watchman, but I did really like it in the sense of how stories change over time, and how we get to a final draft.  I think, if I had to give it a rating, I’d give it 4 stars.

To Kill A Mockingbird CoverTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, narrated by Sissy Spacek

Audio Published In 2006 by Caedmon, book originally published in 1960|11 Hours

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction/Classic

Blog Graphic-What It's About

(from the hardcover edition)

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior- to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed Mockingbird, and it was nice to listen to it again, because the last time I read it was in high school. I was really fuzzy on the details, and there was a lot I had forgotten in the years since then.  I really don’t have a lot to say about Mockingbird on it’s own, but I did really like the story and the town.  I did see hints of Watchman in it, and I did see glimmers of some of the racial tension we see in Watchman, and quite honestly, I’m not sure if it’s because it was always there and I never picked up on or if it’s because Watchman was fresh on my mind.  Mockingbird did make me appreciate Watchman a lot, even though I read it after Watchman.

I did like Sissy Spacek as a narrator, and it was actually sort of soothing listening to her.  And it was soothing in a good way, if that makes any sense.

Rating: Honestly, I’m not sure.  I originally had a 5 star rating, and part of me wants to keep it at 5, because it is a great story, and it holds up so well, but I don’t know that I love it enough to give it 5 stars.  So…maybe 4 stars, because I do really like it.

Let’s talk about both books now, since I’ve said all I have to say on them individually.

So, in some ways Watchman is a sequel, since it takes place after Mockingbird, but at the same time, I overwhelming see it as an early draft of Mockingbird, and the story that we may have had instead of Mockingbird.  I wasn’t surprised with the fact that Atticus is racist in Watchman, and I feel like he does represent a lot of people during that time.  It does make me realize how I little I know, and it makes me want to learn more.  But I do get why people are taken off guard by it, because this is a much less-idealized Atticus and not the Atticus we’ve come to love.

I think what’s most fascinating about both books, but particularly Watchman, is how far we’ve come in some ways, but how some things haven’t changed all that much, in terms of the racial issues that come up in both books.  What I think I liked most about Watchman is how it would become Mockingbird.  I would love to see other drafts, just to see how we get from Point A to Point B.  You can definitely see glimmers of Mockingbird in Watchman, and reading both definitely made me appreciate both, and how stories can evolve.  I think that’s what I took away from Watchman the most.

I think that’s all for Go Set A Watchman and To Kill A Mockingbird!  I wish it were slightly more organized and coherent, but I had a hard time getting my thought written down.

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