While the world was captivated by the story of a book by a great literary figure that has been hidden in a box for more than half a century, another literary figure talked about hiding a book away in a box for a century. There have been many articles about what to do with Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, how to do it, when, and who is or isn’t involved. The most interesting thing I’ve read about a book in the past week, though, is what Margaret Atwood said in an interview with Slate.com about why she chose to submit a novel to the Future Library project: “I was one of those children who buried little jars with things in them in the back yard…You hope that someone might find it and open it up at some time in the future.” This seems a lot like what happened to Harper Lee’s book, but it feels like someone found it and opened it up too early. Let’s put it back, as part of the Future Library project.
No one is supposed to have read the books submitted to the Future Library project, for which a forest of trees has been planted in Norway that, in a hundred years, will supply the paper that will be used to print Atwood’s book and ninety-nine other submissions made one per year until 2114. At this point, at least a few people have read Lee’s book, but I’m sure an exception could be made.
This would be a major get for the project, and it is a prime candidate. For all of the excitement surrounding the discovery of a sequel of sorts to To Kill a Mockingbird, suspicion lingers over the circumstances of its discovery and publication, primarily having to do with the health of its author and her awareness of what is happening. Even if she definitively and directly tells the world that it is her wish that it be published, now, as is, the book will still have an uncomfortable aura.
Not in a hundred years, though. All of the ambiguity around the publication of Go Set a Watchman will have dissipated a century from now, and Lee will have died so her wishes, whatever they may be now or may have been when she put it away, will not be a factor. Those suspected of taking advantage of her will likewise be unable to profit from it. On top of that, a book written in the 1950s about the early years of the Civil Rights movement in Alabama will be an even bigger deal then than it is now, with more time having passed since the events portrayed. Sometimes, time capsules, like those Atwood buried as a child or the one she contributed to just last year, are opened too early and eagerly. Perhaps even Mockingbird’s glory will have faded in a hundred years, but that would be all the more reason to debut its sister book at that time, when it can more easily be its own thing, not just the “sequel” to a classic by a “recluse” that we’ve all been waiting for.