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Local Book Stores Celebrate Harper Lee & Her New Novel

Sandra Averhart

Renowned southern writer Harper Lee is being celebrated this week, with the release of her new book Go Set a Watchman. Barnes & Noble stores in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach got things going on Monday - the eve of today’s release - with Read-A-Thons featuring Lee’s classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird.

In Pensacola, the read-a-thon included local elected officials, members of the media, and others weaving the southern tale of Atticus Finch and his kids Jem and Scout. Tom Ninestine from the Pensacola News Journal read the first chapter. Also, Mayor Ashton Hayward and Gulf Breeze Councilwoman Renee Bookout got turns.

Retired high school teacher Nannette Grimm of Pensacola was among those who came in for a listen. “I grew up in Cookville, Tennessee, in a small town and Scout is me. I was exactly like that child,” said Grimm referring to the book’s main character.

Sandra Averhart
Margaret Whibbs

Margaret Meade Whibbs, a librarian & media specialist at Gulf Breeze High School, put on her best southern voice in reading Chapter 12.

Whibbs says she was honored to be one of several guest readers asked to participate in the read-a-thon. She believes To Kill a Mockingbird is the best book of the Twentieth Century; covering issues such as racial injustice that still resonate more than 50 years after it was published in 1960.

“I think especially today with things that are going on across the country, I think it’s important that they [high school students] read and understand what it was actually like,” Whibbs said. “This is a very accurate portrayal of life in the south in the United States.”

Whibbs says she’s now looking forward to seeing what the previously written sequel Go Set a Watchman will bring.

Absolutely, I think it’s great. It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens before this,” said Whibbs. “You know it’s the prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s going to be really, really fascinating.”

Also excited is James Loyd, community and business manager for Barnes & Noble on Airport Blvd in Pensacola. He says a new offering from Harper Lee has been long anticipated.

“And, so everybody’s always said ‘hey, when’s she (gonna) put out her next one’,” said Loyd, referring to the fact that it’s been more than 50 years since Harper Lee’s first much acclaimed book.

She actually wrote Go Set a Watchman before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s set 20 years in the future.

Given the length of time between book releases, Loyd says there’s no real literary comparison to the buzz created by Harper Lee’s new book. But, he notes the craze surrounding the new books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. He adds that they’re prepared with plenty of copies to go around.

“You know, we did get tons and tons of books in, and we’ve had lots and lots of pre-orders for it,” Loyd said.

Just for the occasion, the Pensacola Barnes & Noble opened at 7 a.m., two hours early.

“We had people lined up beginning at 6 o’clock, out waiting to rush in the door and the first one to get a copy, so they start reading on the beach today,” said Loyd.

Meantime, nearby Books-a-Million stayed open late Monday for those who couldn’t wait. Also, Go Set a Watchman was released at midnight in Lee’s home town of nearby Monroeville, Alabama.