A Traverse City, Mich., bookstore is offering refunds to its customers who bought the newly released Harper Lee novel “Go Set a Watchman” because it feels the volume is “not a sequel or a prequel to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Neither is it a new book.”
On its website, Brilliant Books goes on to call the second book by the Alabama native who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1960 novel about race in the South “a first draft that was originally, and rightfully, rejected” and urges its customers not to think of it as “a nice summer novel.”
The posting likened “Go Set a Watchman” to James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man” and “Stephen Hero.”
“‘Hero was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic ‘Portrait.’ ‘Hero’ was eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans — not as a new ‘Joyce novel.’ We would have been delighted to see ‘Go Set A Watchman’ receive a similar fate,” Brilliant Books said online.
Store owner Peter Makin told the Free Press in an email that he decided to refund customers’ money, when on the day the novel was published, July 14, a woman, coming in to pick up her pre-ordered copy “told me she had heard things about the book that had made her unsure if she wanted to read it at all. It wasn’t ‘Harper Lee’s New Novel.’ Her disappointment was palpable, so I immediately apologized for being complicit in the marketing, and offered her a refund, which she accepted. I realized then that we needed to offer the same thing to all our customers, of which there were dozens across the country, and explain why.”
The bookstore has a policy to stand by its book recommendations; for example, all Brilliant Book Monthly Selections are guaranteed, though not many are returned.
“We are not offering refunds based on the quality of the (Harper Lee) book or its content. We are offering refunds to those who bought the book based on marketing that led them to believe it was something other than what it actually was,” Makin said. “If you find yourself complicit in misleading a customer, you should make amends. Again, this isn’t about whether they liked the book. Its about being misled by the marketing.”
HarperCollins, publisher of “Go Set a Watchman,” could not be reached for comment Tuesday about Brilliant Books’ refund policy.
“Go Set a Watchman” is priced at $27.99 for the hardcover edition on the store’s website. Makin declined to share actual sales numbers, adding that “only a handful” have been returned to what he called “very grateful” customers.
The Traverse City independent bookseller also lambasted the publishing industry, though Makin hasn’t shared his views directly with HarperCollins.
“It is disappointing and frankly shameful to see our noble industry parade and celebrate this as ‘Harper Lee’s New Novel.’ This is pure exploitation of both literary fans and a beloved American classic (which we hope has not been irrevocably tainted). We therefore encourage you to view ‘Go Set A Watchman’ with intellectual curiosity and careful consideration; a rough beginning for a classic, but only that,” Brilliant Books said on its website.
The book — what HarperCollins calls “a newly discovered novel” that Lee had sent to publishers before she’d sent her now-classic volume — is set two decades after its predecessor. Scout Finch, daughter of lawyer Atticus, is now an adult.
“Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014,” the publishing house explained on its website. “Exploring how the characters from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.”