We bet you didn’t have this in your 2015 literary news betting pool: Harper Lee, the 88-year-old author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will drop her second book this July. “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman,” Lee said in a statement issued by her publisher, explaining how the manuscript had been lost:
“It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became To Kill a Mockingbird) from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized [the original book] had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”
It’s not often that a reclusive writer with one (admittedly canonical) book to their name waits a full 55 years to deliver a follow-up, and Twitter reacted with the full range of shocked disbelief, mostly in the form of corny jokes, which themselves became the object of derisive critique.
Finally get to learn what happens to Atticus' law practice.— Philip Bump (@pbump) February 3, 2015
Samuel L. Jackson to star in new To Kill a Mockingbird novel.— Brett Rosner (@Brosner85) February 3, 2015
All-woman reboot of To Kill a Mockingbird— Jess Zimmerman (@j_zimms) February 3, 2015
Big high five to Harper Lee for her hotly anticipated sequel, Tequila Mockingbird— Caity Weaver (@caityweaver) February 3, 2015
I'm told the new Harper Lee book is called "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn."— Brandon Stosuy (@brandonstosuy) February 3, 2015
Bae Radley— Matt Fowler (@TheMattFowler) February 3, 2015
Harper Lee releasing a new novel. Your move, Dr. Dre.— Eli Braden (@EliBraden) February 3, 2015
Looking forward to see what role Sofia Coppola will have with the next Mockingbird installment— Anthony Lima (@SportsBoyTony) February 3, 2015
Scout is 90, has spent her life as reclusive acclaimed novelist. Now must join fellow vampires to fight werewolves.— Peter Sagal (@petersagal) February 3, 2015
50 years between novels, damn. Harper Lee makes George RR Martin look like Isaac Asimov. http://t.co/txBHYKpG9P— Walter Hickey (@WaltHickey) February 3, 2015
2 Kill 2 Mockingbird— Jia Tolentino (@jiatolentino) February 3, 2015
To Kill A Joke— jake (@jakebeckman) February 3, 2015
To Kill A Mockingbird: Twitter Jokes— PJ Vogt (@PJVogt) February 3, 2015
Good harper lee joke, literature-knower. pic.twitter.com/p2Bif90Bn0— jeffrey cranor (@happierman) February 3, 2015
dozens of english majors trip over themselves to be the first to tweet a funny to kill a mockingbird sequel title— future president (@JucheMane) February 3, 2015
What's the best social media platform to look at if I want to read 4,000 sub-Jay Leno jokes about Harper Lee right now?— Daniel Ralston (@danielralston) February 3, 2015
if you're gleefully pointing out that someone's harper lee joke is unoriginal, just remember that YOU JOINED TWITTER— john freiler (@johnfreiler) February 3, 2015
Lee—whom many thought was dead—is unlikely to join her fellow novelists in self-promoting through Twitter, not least because an egg is squatting on the handle @HarperLee. It wasn’t until last spring that she even agreed to let HarperCollins publish ebook and audiobook editions of To Kill a Mockingbird. Then again, it’s not like she’ll need much help moving the 2 million copies printed in the first run of Go Set a Watchman.
But that reminds me: We’re well overdue for a parody J.D. Salinger account.
Illustration by Max Fleishman