As expected the Number 1 bestseller at Amazon.com this morning is Harper Lee’s new old novel, Go Set a Watchman. Lee’s second published novel is a publishing industry sensation — lent legendary status because its famous author went quiet after making a deep and lasting cultural imprint with To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. That iconic book, currently lifted by the rising tide of Go Set a Watchman, sits at number 2 in the Amazon bestseller rankings. It’s a high place on the list for a 55-year-old novel, but To Kill a Mockingbird has been a perennial strong seller for more than half a century.
Both Harper Lee novels have at their centers the race issue, especially in the South in the early and middle of the 20th century. It’s interesting to note that occupying the third spot on the Amazon list this morning is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a popular polemicist and thinker who has famously made the case for African Americans to receive reparations for slavery. Harper Lee’s commercial power may be partly driven by her celebrity and by nostalgia readers feel for a work that changed many perceptions about race. But Coates’ spot on the list proves that many American readers really are engaging the race issue in earnest, putting Coates’ challenging contemporary book right next to the legend — and listening to both voices.