As an owner of the only non-religious bookstore in Harper Lee’s hometown, Spencer Madrie figured he’d sell hundreds of copies – maybe more – after the stunning announcement that the author was releasing a sequel to her 1960 blockbuster ”To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Five months later, more than 7,000 copies of Lee’s new novel ”Go Set a Watchman” are headed to Madrie’s Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe, located in a converted three-bedroom house near the courthouse square in Monroeville. He had to buy a new building across the street just to store all the books, many of which he will ship to online purchasers.
”We’ve sold to a bunch of different countries around the world and, of course, a ton of them in the United States,” said Madrie. ”That’s exciting when you think that so many people care so much about a book release.”
It’s doubtful people anywhere care more than in Monroeville, a southwest Alabama town of 6,300 and the model for Scout Finch’s hometown of Maycomb in both books.
”For me and my generation this is the `To Kill a Mockingbird’ of our generation, so this is history for us,” said 25-year-old Hannah Hood, a Monroeville native and office manager at the local chamber of commerce.
Questions arose earlier this year as soon as the publisher Harper revealed plans for ”Watchman,” which was written before ”Mockingbird” and apparently sat in storage for decades. The upcoming book traces the lead character Scout’s return home about two decades after father Atticus Finch defended a black man wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in the 1930s.
Scout has a boyfriend named Hank in the new novel, and her older brother Jem is dead, according to an excerpt released Friday by the publisher. As in ”Mockingbird,” the new book parallels parts of Lee’s life.
The new book was announced just weeks after the death of Lee’s sister and longtime protector, Alice Finch Lee, and the author still hasn’t commented publicly aside from written statements released through the publisher or Lee’s current attorney, Tonja Carter.
The publisher’s and Carter’s claims aside, some in town still doubt the 89-year-old Lee really wanted to release ”Watchman,” a 1950s manuscript which contained the seeds that later became ”Mockingbird” at an editor’s suggestion.
Still, many residents are excited about the new book.
Madrie expects to get his first shipment of 4,000 books in an 18-wheeler truck on Monday, and the store will open at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday to begin selling books at the first moment allowed by the publisher. Each novel sold by Madrie’s shop will come with an embossed emblem and a certificate showing it was purchased in Lee’s hometown.
Madrie has strung lights across the store’s front lawn for an early-morning party and is bringing in an Atticus Finch impersonator who also sings Dean Martin songs on the side. Madrie hopes to close around 2 a.m. before reopening the shop a few hours later for more sales, but he isn’t counting on it.
”I know how people like to linger after a party,” said Madrie.
A couple of blocks away, volunteers will begin public readings of ”Watchman” at 7 a.m. Tuesday in the old county courtroom, a childhood hangout for Lee and the model for the courtroom in the 1962 film version of ”Mockingbird.” Walking tours will be conducted around town pointing out sites mentioned in both books.
There will also be talks, refreshments, an evening cocktail hour with mint juleps and story-telling at the public library, which was a hotel 55 years ago when actor Gregory Peck came to town with his wife to get a feel for his character in the movie, Atticus Finch, who was based on Lee’s father, the late A.C. Lee. Peck won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Finch.
Lee lives in an assisted living home just a few miles from downtown, yet she is in declining health and rarely makes public appearances. Even more so, Lee values her privacy and doesn’t care for media attention; she gave her last interview in 1964.