Conversations, VOLUME 8

How to Appreciate Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman

Page 2:
I’m Proud of You, Scout
How to Appreciate Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman

By Rachel Joy Watson


Editor’s note: Go Set A Watchman is one of our Books of the Month for August. Join us in our forums for conversation on the book, starting Sat. Aug 1…



3. Don’t be a bigot

What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions? He doesn’t give. He stays rigid. Doesn’t even try to listen, just lashes out, Uncle Jack explains to Scout after listening to her tell-off Atticus.

We can disagree with people and still listen to them and love them. Why is this so difficult to grasp? Probably because we are all bigots to some extent. We’d rather speak than listen; run than stay put and try to make a difference. I remember listening to a group of young poets perform at a coffee shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma one evening. A veteran poet, the headliner, pleaded with them: Please, please don’t leave this place. You will be tempted to move somewhere you feel more comfortable—to Austin, Portland or Seattle, but Tulsa needs your voices. Please stay here.


4. It’s worth the read

There aren’t any heroes in this story. No Boo Radley to gently take Scout’s hand as she walks him to his front porch. But I am not sorry that I read this novel.

Though plenty of reviewers have called it mediocre and disappointing, I can’t agree. It doesn’t have a traditional, well-rounded plot. It’s not a perfect book like Mockingbird. But it’s well written, thought-provoking, and relevant. If we want to see change take place in this world, we must acknowledge the reality that people aren’t perfect. We must listen. And we must resist the urge to run toward those who agree with us, because it’s the places and people that make us cringe, the opinions that make our skin crawl, that need us most.

Uncle Jack, I can’t live in a place that I don’t agree with and that doesn’t agree with me.

You said in effect, “I don’t like the way these people do, so I have no time for them.” You’d better take time for ‘em, honey, otherwise you’ll never grow.


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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  1. I appreciate Rachel’s reading guide. I think most of her observations are spot on, having just finished letting Reese Witherspoon read me to book on a long journey. The book is a bit of a mess, but, yes, worth the read. Even through the ‘preachy’ sections that close out the book.

    Atticus is a far more complex character than in Mockingbird, but truer to the men of my childhood in a small Southern town. It was sobering to realize how much of Atticus’s racial worldview had seeped into me during my childhood. The book voices very accurately what was in the air among white Southern leaders of the time.

    It’s less interesting as story, but there are glimpses of gold, particularly in Scout’s flashbacks to her youth. And the way she skewers Methodists (“notoriously short on theolgy…a mile long on good works”) made we wince with recognition.

    The way this book got to print feels a little messy, but I don’t think it’s going to ruin Harper Lee’s reputation.

  2. I enjoyed this objective review. It was well done. The term racist is
    way overused today. If we were to closely exam any American’s
    language or thoughts regardless of color we would probably find
    that all would fall under this greatly exploited pc word.

  3. Jennifer Deutsch

    No longer hesitant to give this book a try. Thoughtful outline/review here. I like what you covered as far as expectations. I shall read it with a good view point going in.