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Selling out a bestseller

If you've met my cats, you know I'm a huge "To Kill A Mockingbird" fan. I live with Atticus and Scout every day, so you can imagine how excited I was to hear of the decades-awaited sequel, following my beloved characters 20 years later. Atticus Finch's dignity, grace and intelligence are arguably unmatched in modern literature — and most of us have identified with the appealingly clueless Scout at some point in our lives.

At Books With A Past, the bookstore I own in Howard County, that excitement was short-lived. As soon as the publication of "Go Set a Watchman" was announced, the Internet exploded with theories and suspicion that Harper Lee, Pulitzer Prize winner and renowned recluse, may not be entirely cognizant of the circumstances surrounding Watchman's publication.

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Ms. Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007 and has been described as visually impaired and almost completely deaf, has never published another book. She hasn't given a formal interview since 1964 and is a remarkably private figure. Her sister, lawyer and advocate, Alice Lee, whom Harper has described as "Atticus in a skirt," died in November 2014; Watchman's publication was announced just three months later. While the state of Alabama investigated and found no evidence of elder abuse (Ms. Lee is 89) or fraud on the part of Ms. Lee's now-lawyer Tonja Carter, the series of events leading to the rediscovery and publication of Watchman are a little too convenient for me. It seems likely that Ms. Lee was, if not unaware of the plan to publish her manuscript, at least manipulated into it.

Despite the increasing suspicion (made stronger by the shocking New York Times review that paints Atticus as a bigot), the novel is no doubt a bestseller and was actually the largest preorder release in HarperCollins history. Readers are flocking to bookstores and the online-retailer-that-shall-not-be-named, eager to catch up with characters that shaped their own perspectives in high school and beyond. However, they won't find any copies of this year's blockbuster at my store.

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One of the great things about independent bookstores that sets them apart from mega-chains and online empires is the curation of their stock. Indie bookstores don't just order and sell books based on potential bestseller status (though let's be honest, we're in this to make money, too). We have the opportunity to stock our stores with the books we love and the ones we know you'll love, even if they'll never be this season's hottest releases. That's one of the many things that makes indies a valuable part of their communities (shop local, y'all!).

As a used bookstore, we have the ability here to carry a wider variety of titles — titles that you've never seen before and may never see again, treasures lost over the course of decades and centuries. The nature of our business and its varied stock also mean that we have the freedom to avoid books that we find unpalatable. Because new books are a relatively small part of our sales, we have a freedom here that new bookstores don't have: We choose not to sell "Go Set a Watchman."

I'm in this business because I love books and I love authors. Even if it turns out to be the best book ever published (a subjective ranking if ever there was one), I don't think I could ever love Watchman. There's too much drama, too much murky backstory for me to ever feel that I wasn't somehow betraying an author I love. Is this a naïve view? Maybe. It's certainly true that other authors at other times were manipulated or worse for their fame and fortunes. Still others died in poverty and obscurity. There's not a whole lot I can do about that. And it's not like my tiny store in semirural Maryland is going to make any potential culprits in this scenario see the error of their ways. But I own an independent bookstore, and it's my choice not to (literally) buy into this book.

If you too are looking for a different summer read, but with "To Kill A Mockingbird" themes, may we suggest: "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson, a true life account of a court case in Monroeville County, Ala., and winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction; or New York Times bestseller "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd for a narrator who reminds us of Scout; or John Grisham's legal-thriller-turned blockbuster, "A Time to Kill"?

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They're all quality books that won't leave you feeling as if you've sold out a bestseller.

Erin Matthews is owner of Books With A Past, a used and new bookstore in Howard County. Her email is erin@bookswithapast.com.

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