Harper Lee fans, hometown joyful over Mockingbird sequel Go Set a Watchman

The literary world is buzzing with excitement for Tuesday's launch of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's sequel to the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Fans send sales skyrocketing, Monroeville celebrations include midnight sales, readings, tours

Book fan Julia Stroud was the first in line to get a copy of Go Set A Watchman, during the midnight book release in Monroeville, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Harper Lee fans worldwide stayed up late, awoke early and dashed off during meal breaks Tuesday to pick up a copy of the year's most anticipated novel, Go Set a Watchman, a second work from the author of To Kill a Mockingbird that once seemed impossible.

Booksellers from Cambridge, Mass., to Downers Grove, Ill., opened at midnight Tuesday, while other stores began selling copies at 7 a.m., hours earlier than usual.

Pre-orders have already made Go Set a Watchman one of the year's top books and did not let up despite lukewarm reviews and some unwelcome news about Atticus Finch, one of literatures all-time heroes.

According to officials at Canada's Indigo Books, the initial sales of Go Set a Watchman have exceeded first-day sales of recent bestsellers, including E.L. James's Fifty Shades series and biographies of Steve Jobs, Chris Hadfield and Bobby Orr.

Lee's hometown celebrates

Judy May and her sister Julia Stroud drove back to their hometown of Monroeville, Ala., and snatched up the first two copies as Go Set a Watchman went on sale at midnight.

"I'm so excited, I'm shaking," May, 51, said as she walked outside the bookstore with her hardback treasure.

Legendary novelist Harper Lee's 2nd book Go Set a Watchman set for July 14 release 1:57

Lee's hometown of Monroeville, the model for the fictional Maycomb in both books, buzzed with excitement for the Tuesday celebration of the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. A crowd of more than 200 waited in humid summer weather for the book to go on sale at midnight at Monroeville's Ol' Curiosities & Book Shoppe.

Atticus Finch impersonator Eric Richardson, left, entertains literature fans who gathered outside the Ol' Curiosities & Book Shoppe during the midnight book launch of the new Harper Lee novel Go Set a Watchman in Monroeville, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

An Atticus Finch impersonator, with glasses and a briefcase, entertained the crowd, a few of whom came dressed as characters from the book.

The town has a full day of celebrations including readings, walking tours and a mint julep cocktail hour outside the old courthouse.

But at the same time, there was trepidation, and disbelief, that Finch, the courtly model of integrity who in the 1930s defended a wrongly accused black man in Mockingbird, is portrayed as a racist 20 years later in Watchman.

"I'm nervous. I'm reserving opinion, but I'm ready to be mad. He's the epitome of the moral compass," said Cher Caldwell, a 43-year-old English teacher from Kentucky.

Harper Lee is expected to spend Tuesday at the assisted living facility that is her current home in Monroeville. (Associated Press)

May said she's tried to stay away from spoilers, but said she too is concerned about a different Atticus.

"Atticus has been a hero-type person through our lives here in Monroe County and the whole world actually. It would be pretty disappointing," May said. "But at the same time, you have to kind of remind yourself he was human at the time he was raised."

The new book was written years before Mockingbird, and contains seeds of the story that eventually became a classic staple of literature. The new novel traces character Scout Finch's return home to the fictional town of Maycomb in the 1950s.

Jan Anderson, 48, said she wants to see what became of the characters that she fell in love when she read Mockingbird in high school, saying she always imagined that the opinioned Scout Finch became a lawyer or some sort of crusader for justice.

"I'm going to have it read in a couple of hours," Anderson said.

The book shop, located near the courthouse square in Monroeville, ordered more than 10,000 copies of Watchman in a town with a population of less than 6,300.

"I think a lot of people are really wanting to wait and read the whole book for themselves," bookstore owner Spencer Madrie said.

Lee, 89, is spending the day at the 15-person assisted living facility where she lives in Monroeville.

Wayne Flynt, a historian and author, said he visited her on Monday and handed her an inch-thick stack of news articles and printouts from around the world about the release of Watchman.

"She chortled," Flynt told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "She's absolutely delighted. I think she's a bit overwhelmed."

He added that he summarized some of the reviews to Lee, who is mostly deaf and blind.

"She is processing all of this with good humour and a little bit of understanding of how over the top it is."

With files from CBC News

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