Go get a ‘Watchman’: Stores, libraries ready for new Harper Lee book

All that’s missing is the butterbeer.

After 55 years, even the most loyal “To Kill a Mockingbird” fans had about given up hope that its reclusive author would ever produce another novel. But with Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” finally set for release Tuesday, some area bookstores and libraries are starting the celebration early.

Monday night is “To Kill a Mockingbird Night” at Switzer Library in Marietta, the main branch of the Cobb County system. Lee, 89, has reportedly described “Watchman” as the “parent” book of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Mockingbird.” The Switzer event features a screening of the 1962 film version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” preceded by a discussion session about that novel and what to possibly expect from “Watchman.”

Meanwhile, it’s pretty much a case of “Mock” around the clock at all metro area Barnes & Noble stores on Monday. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., volunteers will take turns reading aloud from Lee’s 1960 classic. Then, the party picks right back up again at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Local Barnes & Nobles will throw their doors open two hours early to accommodate what’s being described only as “hundreds and hundreds” of customers in metro Atlanta who’ve preordered hardcover copies of “Watchman.”

“We were all talking about how exciting this is,” said Erica Grimes, community business development manager for the Alpharetta store at Mansell Crossing. “It’s the first time since ‘Harry Potter’ it’s felt this way.”

Indeed, print books still reigned supreme at the height of the “Harry Potter” publishing craze about a decade ago. And bookstores made the most of it, hosting midnight book release parties where crowds of costumed kids competed in “Harry”-themed trivia contests, tried on “Sorting Hats” and quaffed store-brewed versions of the books’ signature “butterbeer.”

Yet now you don’t even have to get out of bed to buy a book from Amazon or download it instantly to your tablet or e-reader. While that can make it harder to gauge advance interest in a book, it hasn’t stopped “Watchman” publisher HarperCollins from scheduling a massive initial printing of 2 million copies (in comparison, “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” first printing was 5,000 copies). Or area library systems from placing big preorders across multiple formats — including large print, e-audiobook and Spanish translation — and then immediately wondering if that will be enough.

“We’ve preordered 50 (print) copies … and already have 174 holds, so it looks like I’ll be ordering more,” Deborah McLaughlin, head of collection development for the Cobb County Public Library System, wrote in an email in late June. By July 8, the number of “holds,” or requests to check out a print copy, was up to 244.

The DeKalb County Public Library ordered 75 print copies and said it would monitor the number of hold requests (already up to 190 as of July 8) and add “additional copies as needed to meet demand.” The Gwinnett County Public Library said it would order quantities of “Watchman” as needed to maintain a “holds to copies” ratio of 5:1 (number of holds as of July 8: 296).

It’s a little trickier to figure out where things stand with the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System. Though it ordered 44 print copies of the book, its system doesn’t allow holds until the book is officially in the system upon its release.

Demand could be even higher for the e-book version of “Watchman,” which library systems will also offer.

Meanwhile, independent bookstores here are stocking up on print copies of the book whose existence surprised everyone and whose author is both an adored and somewhat mysterious figure.

“The love for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is really unparalleled, and the interest level (in ‘Watchman’) was high right from the get-go,” said Frank Reiss, owner of A Cappella Books in Atlanta. This even despite Lee’s famed public reticence. “We’re known for getting signed books, so a few customers contacted me almost immediately and said, ‘Can we get signed copies?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not. There’s no way they’re going to do that.’”

In fact, some people think the combination of its rarely seen creator and “Watchman’s” juicy backstory (Lee’s lawyer reportedly found the previously unknown work attached to a “Mockingbird” manuscript just last summer) has caused interest to skyrocket even more.

At FoxTale Book Shoppe, it’s all just cause for celebration. The Woodstock store will sell the book all day Tuesday, then cap it off with a “Watchman” book release party starting at 5 p.m.

No butterbeer. But they will be serving “Tequila Mockingbirds.”

“In the book world, it’s the biggest thing that’s happened in a long time,”said FoxTale owner Ellen Ward. “I can’t think of anything more exciting than another Harper Lee book.”

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