The buzz of anticipation is palpable at Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe in Monroeville Alabama. Since midnight, Harper Lee’s hometown bookstore has been spilling its customers out into the dying lawn in their front. Hard core fans crowd around the indie bookstore’s porch, fanning themselves with bright posters and even the book they’ve sweated to get. It’s 103 degrees and the AC is on full blast inside, barely making a dent in the miserable heat. Most people don’t notice, or care. They’re too busy salivating over the displays of a book bound in blue and gold. Go Set A Watchman.
I myself stand towards the back of the line, scrolling through my Twitter feed. It offers no escape, for everyone’s 140 characters for the day seem to have one thing in common. The words “Go Set A Watchman”. Whether it be about the questionable origins of Harper Lee’s acclaimed To Kill A Mockingbird or Atticus Finch’s newly-revealed racism, everyone has something to say.
“Are you having fun?” I glance up to a man selling T-Shirts. He’s dressed very convincingly as Atticus Finch. Am I? The automatic answer is yes. I am, but I’m not. I’m just excited to be a part of history.
To get here, I had to wake up at 6 am in New Orleans. From there I drove from four hours, a number of which were spent behind a wood truck spitting chips. Before that, I ran through Pirate’s Alley off Jackson Square to get a book before leaving the Crescent City. Along the way we stopped at a Cracker Barrel which inevitably gave one of my travelling companions indigestion and set us back a precious hour. This entire plan was hashed out the night before over cocktails and mocktails (one called “Tequila Mockingbird”) at Commanders.
While some people might use this as an excuse to be in a bad mood, I did not. I was glad to be here.
But that’s too complicated to say.
“Yes. I say, "I am.”
He quirks an eyebrow. “Are you really? It’s okay if you’re not. You’re just a kid.” He says dubiously, giving me one of those all-too-familiar patronizing smiles.
Was Jean-Louise Finch just a kid? No. She was not. “Absolutely.” I smile back. I think I’ve figured it out. The man was obviously dressed as the newly revealed Atticus. I guess I just missed it before because I’m only a kid.
With that, the man turns to the girl behind me and begins to talk about the cocktail Tequila Mockingbird. She’s shocked and he’s proud to be the “first” to discover it.
I had a sip of one last night. But I don’t tell him that.
Next to the entrance, where I’m standing is a shelf of Truman Capote. He lived in Monroeville too. I think about running to the car to grab my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird so I can put it on the shelf with Capote’s works. But I don’t. I would probably be kicked out of the store, and most certainly would be booed by fans.
Slowly the line inches forward. At one point I stand next to a local author, who’s given up selling her books and is now just chatting with a friend. The girl behind me makes plans for a weekend trip to New Orleans. “Atticus” leaves. And I wait.
Finally, after the customer before me has gathered all seven of her copies (one for each of her friends) it’s my turn to receive the reveled book.
It is rather uneventful. I could be buying any book in the world. I did not feel any over-coming joy or self-fulfillment. I felt normal. Like me, with a book. The only truly notable thing about my experience purchasing the book is my handwritten receipt. The cashier’s hand must be killing her. But, since her bookstore is earning upwards of $25,000 today it’s hard to feel bad for her.
Before I leave, the cashier gives me a dark, cautious look. “I hope you enjoy your book,” she says hoarsely.
With that, I walk out of the store and let the next rabid customer take my place. I take a few photos, add my tweet to the masses, and go on with my life.
As I pass the county courthouse, I smile at the hundreds of people and reporters talking about my newly purchased book. It gets me thinking, without Harper Lee and Truman Capote, what would Monroeville be today?
It is nice to know I am taking part in history.