Harper Lee: The Early Numbers

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Wait and see. That seems to be the case today among Memphis booksellers.

July 14th is the official publication date of Go Set a Watchman (published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins). The book is Harper Lee’s first novel and the one written before To Kill a Mockingbird but only now seeing its way into print and into the hands of readers. Locally, though, the morning was a quiet one, with no great rush when three area bookstores opened.

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According to Eddie Burton of the Booksellers at Laurelwood in East Memphis, the store pre-ordered 300 copies of the book, with a third of those pre-purchased by customers using vouchers.

There was no beating down the doors when the Booksellers opened at 7:30 a.m. No bulk buyers looking for first editions of Lee’s "new" book. And no advance reader’s copies so that the staff could have a sneak-peek. Burton did wonder, though, about reader reaction, because the news has been full of reports that the earlier version of Atticus Finch portrayed in Go Set a Watchman may not be quite the noble character readers remember from To Kill a Mockingbird.

At Burke’s Book Store in Midtown, today’s opening sale of Lee’s book was on a smaller scale but much the same as at the Booksellers. According to Burke’s co-owner Cheryl Mesler, the store had 20 pre-orders, with four still in stock, and very little in the way of customers wandering in to have a first look at a first edition. “It will be interesting to see” is how Mesler described what the early critical and general reaction to the book will be, especially as word spreads on social media throughout the day.

Farther east, the day started two hours earlier than the normal opening time at the Barnes & Noble on Germantown Parkway, and business was indeed “brisk,” store manager Robert Neely admitted. Other than that, though, Neely said he wasn’t free to discuss copies of Go Set a Watchman so far sold at the Wolfchase location. •

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