Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Taking a test on my own text

A slightly weird experience. One of my two published short stories has been included in a textbook for Swedish as a second language. (No, I don't get any royalties for it). The reason is, I believe, that the story is about a migrant's experience, but disguised as a fairy tale. Fairy tale is always a good form to tell about difficult matters.

The story is well known in many versions: a young maiden meets a Merking who entices her to follow him into the sea. She marries him, but every now and then she longs back to land, and when she goes back she has to decide whether she wants to return. I have, after many years, made up my mind, but it wasn't straightforward. In fact, when I wrote the story I hadn't yet made up my mind.

Anyway, this story has already been used in Swedish SATS. Now migrants arriving in Sweden and hopefully wishing to learn Swedish will have a chance to read it. It has been beautifully illustrated.

The short introduction to the story says:

What do you do if you like two places equally, but must choose the one or the other? Read this fairy tale, written by the author Maria Nikolajeva [I believe my name was important for the choice of text]. It is a story about Renata who is torn between the place where she was born and the place where she has lived most of her life. Which is her home?

I must say, I am quite moved by this introduction, and I really hope that people who read the story will recognise themselves.

After the story, there is a set of questions and tasks.


1. Why did the Merking want Renata to follow him to the bottom of the sea when they met on the beach? [Not sure how I would answer this. He fell in love with her? He desired her? He was sexually attracted to her?]
2. Name three things on the bottom of the sea that were different from what Renata was used to. [I had to re-read the story to answer this. I think the right answer is: language, food and darkness].
3. How did Renata react to everything new and unfamiliar? [Hmm… I think the answer is: She eventually got used to it. This is a really difficult question].
4. Why did Renata suddenly long for the land? [I thought I knew that one, but I had to check. She heard church bells. Now, this is a symbol, not a claim that it is your religion that calls you back].
5. Tell us about Renata's first visit back to land. [This is not a comprehension question. This is a retelling question. It can be answered by one short sentence, such as “She was happy”, or expanded into eternity].
6. What had happened when Renata returned to her childhood home for the second time? [Her parents had died. My parents were still alive when I wrote the story. The last sentence is life-to-text projection and should be avoided].
7. In the end of the story, Renata must make a difficult decision. What decision does she have to make and what does she decide? [To be or not to be? To have a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder Cheese?]


1. The story is about a girl, a Merking and a realm at the bottom of the sea. What do you think these three factors [!] symbolise? [A woman, a man and the man's home? A woman, a traficker and a whorehouse?]
2. Who influences Renata's choices? [The Merking asks her nicely. The friends on land are aggressively persistent. I think she follows her heart rather than reason].
3. Why do you think the author has chosen to write this story as a fairy tale? [Ask the author! Because it hurts less to depict your painful experience in disguise. Because imaginative writing has stronger impact on the reader than realistic].
4. Why do you think Renata followed the sunset in the end of the story? [This is a good question. Heroes always follow the sunset. But I think the correct answer is that sunset symbolises death. However, since the sun sets in the West, you can also infer that West is better than East. That is, for someone from Eastern Europe].


1. Why do you think Renata is hesitant about where it is best for her to live? Do you recognise her hesitation? [Well, we are all hesitant about big decisions, but migrants may feel it stronger.This is text-to-life projection and is one of the main reasons we read fiction].
2. Renata is a woman and the Merking is a man. In the story, the woman is torn between the two worlds. Would it be the same if Renata were a man? Why? Why not? [It is doubtless women who more frequently follow men. Even the Bible prescribes it. But I cannot see why it couldn't be the other way round. And there are many fairy tales with exactly such reversed gender roles. I am curious what the students say. Some may misunderstand the question and consider whether the Merking could fall in love with a man].
3. What do you think about Renata's final decision? Would you make the same decision? Why? Why not? [Now, an important aspect of the story is that Renata loves her husband, and she has followed him of her own will. If as a migrant you escape from war or poverty you may have other reasons for staying or leaving. Also you may or may not like your new country and feel welcome and comfortable. Renata loves the sea realm, she has learned the language, she has learned to cook, and she is used to darkness. The merpeople have accepted her. She has children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And she has absolutely nothing to return to. But again, I would be curious to know how the conversation goes in this class].

Then come the exercises. The story, the task says, uses many adjectives [I think it was deliberate]. The various assignments are to match adjectives and nouns, to build adjectives from nouns (for instance, “sunny” form “sun”) and from verbs (for instance, “shining” from “shine”).

Well, I don't really like fiction used to train adjectives. However, as I know from my recent cognitive studies, associative memory is strong, and if the adjectives will in the future remind the students of my story, maybe it's not a bad thing.

The final assignment is to summarise the story. The assignment explains the importance of key words in a summary. What are the key words of my story? I don't think you can find them in the text. You will have to read between the lines.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

When I met Olof Palme

Everybody in Sweden today shares their memories of Olof Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister who was assassinated thirty years ago. A bit similar to J F Kennedy: everybody - old enough - remembers what they did. I am old enough. But that's another story.

On the day following the assassination, Staffan and I were going to a city in Sweden where a play he had translated was opening. I was still in bed when Staffan stormed in, screaming: "I am not going to any f*ing opening night!" My reaction was that the author had said something stupid or the theater had misspelled Staffan's name on the poster or something mundane like that. Instead, he threw the morning paper at me, with Palme on the front page.

The opening night was of course postponed, and Staffan and I, together with the rest of Sweden, spent the following days in front of television.

Inescapably, I remembered my only encounter with Palme, which I will share now. A couple of years earlier, there was another opening night (now you will get the impression that we didn't do anything other that attend opening nights, which is very true since Staffan was much involved with theatre in those days). It was a musical which Staffan co-authored and which featured a very famous actress in the main role. It so happened that she had participated in Palme's election campaign, and therefore he was a guest of honour at the performance and the following party.  I happened to sit next to him at the party, and when he realised I was Russian, he looked at me, took a deep breath and started reciting one of the best-known Russian poems by Alexander Pushkin:
          Буря мглою небо кроет,
          Вихри снежные крутя...

There he stopped, and I picked up without thinking and finished the whole poem, which ends by a proposal to have a drink, which we did.  

Staffan thought it was hilarious when I told him. Not that the Swedish Prime Minister could recite the first two lines of Russian poem, which he had likely learned as a child from his Russian nanny, but that I could immediately pick up and continue. I didn't find it remarkable at all. Every educated person in Russia can recite poetry for hours.  

Monday, 15 February 2016

How to recycle a hero

This is a column I wrote for a Swedish daily in February 2007, when the world lived in anticipation of the final volume of the Harry Potter saga. I feel it still holds true, so here it is for your amusement.

There are speculations about whether J K Rowling intends to kill Harry Potter off in the final book of the formidable series. The author seems to have said that it is appropriate to let the protagonist die so that nobody can pinch him and write a sequel.
As if it has ever stopped literary thieves.
For a start, a couple of books about Harry's life before he learns that he is a powerful wizard. Nice books about everyday adventures with the abominable cousin. They will probably be less exciting than Harry's breath-taking escapades at Hogwarts, but it's child's play for a good writer, and the fans would love to know more about their darling. If Scarlett's Childhood can satisfy Gone with the Wind fans, why not Harry Potter's Childhood?
           A set of at least five volumes can be devoted to Harry's parents, including his dad's pranks mentioned in passing throughout the series. Details about his friendship and rivalry with Harry's teachers will doubtless be welcomed by many readers. It might be permissible to add some erotic flavour that Harry is spared.
           Hermione, Ron, Ginny and the Weasley twins will all get a series of their own. Unfortunately, Mergione's Private Mission and Sen Awesley's Twelve Deeds have already been published by two quick-minded Russian writers, but otherwise the sky is the limit. Moreover, Hermione has a time-turner which allows her to be in two places at the same time, to attend twice as many classes. If she lets Harry borrow the time-turner, all his seven years at Hogwarts can be repeated, in a parallel dimension.
Harry Potter's Cook Book and Harry Potter's Feng Shui are guaranteed bestsellers. Huge success can also be predicted for The True Confessions of Harry Potter and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Harry Potter.
If Harry necessarily must die in the end of the final book, there is always hope that he would do it with Hermione just before he dies, and then Harry Jr, or possibly Harriet, can take over. There is of course something Da Vinci Code over it, but it is surely within fair use. This plot can be stretched for at least twelve volumes.
However, it would be much nicer is Harry lives, becomes Head of Hogwarts, introduces a democratic student union and initiates international collaboration with other wizard schools in a true Bologna spirit.
It may be hard to do all this before the interest fades, but there are many examples of large teams of ghost writers who will easily produce three-four books a month. Although they should preferably be well educated and well read in myths as well as world literature to maintain the level of Rowling's witty allusions. A couple of unemployed professors of English literature may run workshops.
But if Harry really dies in the end of the final volume, don't mourn him too long, dear friends all over the world. There are many stories in which the hero dies and is resurrected, from The New Testament to Sherlock Holmes

PS. All ideas in this column are copyright protected and available for best bid. Nothing under six-digit will not be considered. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Book challenge 2015

Since I love challenges (including all those silly Travel challenges on Facebook) I could not resist this list on my daughter's blog.

If I understand the rules correctly, the challenge is to do it within a year. My daughter is a fast reader, and I have recently become a slow reader. I checked Shelfari that told me I have only read six books this year. It cannot be true. I must have failed to register what I have read. I checked Goodreads and added some books. I also checked my Kindle. But I still have a definite feeling that something is missing.

I am not going to read according to this challenge, but I can go back a year, to August 2014. Apparently, you are allowed to list one book in several categories. Anyway, here we go:

A book with more than 500 pages - I have no idea. I read most books on a tablet, and I don't know how many pages there are. I assume that The goldfinch is more than 500 pages. If not, The luminaries is.
A classic romance - What is classic? What is romance? No idea.
A book that became a movie - The remains of the day, Kazuo Ishiguro. I haven't seen the movie
A book published this year – The buried giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
A book with a number in the title Five children on the Western front, by Kate Saunders
A book written by someone under 30 – The royal babysitters, by Clementine Beauvais
A book with nonhuman characters – Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
A funny book – Britt-Marie var här, by Fredrik Backman
A book by a female author – H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald
A mystery or thriller – The silkworm, by Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling
A book with a one-word title – Sapiens, by Yuval Harari
A book of short stories – Suspended sentences, by Patrick Mondiano
A book set in a different country – The new policeman, by Kate Thompson
A nonfiction book – A time of gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
A popular author’s first book – Go set the watchman, by Harper Lee
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet – The tightrope walkers, by David Almond (also qualifies as book published this year)
A book a friend recommended – The tightrope walkers, by David Almond
A Pulitzer-Prize winning book – The goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
A book based on a true story – Alan Turing, by David Boyle
A book at the bottom of your to-read list - The bunker diary, by Kevin Brooks
A book your mom lovesmy mum is happily dead, and thinking back, I cannot name a book she loved
A book that scares you – Sapiens, by Yuval Harari
A book more than 100 years old - The red and the black, Stendhal. Maybe it qualifies as classic romance?
A book you can finish in a day – Mary Ware's promised land, by Annie Fellows Johnston
A book with antonyms in the title – The white darkness, by Geraldine McCaughean. I re-read it for work
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to travel – An artist of the floating world, by Kazuo Ishiguro
A book that came out the year you were born + The borrowers, by Mary Norton (I know you expected it to be Charlotte's web, but I really dislike it)
A book with bad reviews + Go set a watchman, by Harper Lee
A trilogy - Chaos walking, by Patrick Ness. Re-reading for work
A book from your childhood - Alice in Wonderland. Inevitably this year
A book with a love triangle – I cannot think of any.
A book set in the future - A book of strange new things, by Michel Faber (very bad)
A book set in high school – The rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton
A book with a color in the title – Red shadow, by Paul Dowswell
A book that made you cry – The buried giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
A book with magic – The wise man's fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
A graphic novel – The adventures of the princess and Mr Whiffle, by Patrick Rothfuss
A book by an author you’ve never read before – The miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
A book you own but have never read – Mini knits for the 1/12 scale dolls' house, by Linda Spratley
A book that takes place in your hometown I re-read The Master and Margarita every year
A book that was originally written in a different language – Suspended sentences, by Patrick Mondiano
A book set during Christmas - A time of gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. At least some of it
A book written by an author with your same initials – Poetic justice, by Martha Nussbaum
A play. I don't read plays
A banned book - I actually re-read To kill a mockingbird
A book based on or turned into a TV show – Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A book you started but never finished - The queen of hearts, by Wilkie Collins

Looking at this list, I must say that I have read more than I remembered. And some books I have read I could not place in any category. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Conference nostalgia, part 2

Read the beginning of this story here.

I almost didn't go to the 1993 IRSCL conference in Geelong, Australia, because I had just returned home after six months in the USA, but I was younger then, and Australia was enticing, and I was a board member with another term of service possible, and everybody knows that you don't get elected if you aren't there.

But, absolutely honestly, when I went, I was not expecting to be nominated for presidency. I hoped to be re-elected to the board, and I hoped that the new president would be nice to work with. These days, elections are prepared well in advance, and the candidates circulate their CVs and personal statements. Which is the way it should be. But in the old days, board members were recruited on the spot, as late as an hour before voting. As we were finalising the programme, the current president asked whether I would like to stand for election. I was overwhelmed. When I sais, yes, I would, she told me to cherry-pick my board and tell the election committee. I looked around. I cherry-picked my board. It was a great board, and we spent many good days together in various parts of the world.

I was immediately faced with a huge problem. Typically, biennial conferences would be planned far in advance, so that at any conference the next one would be already in progress and the one after that under negotiation. I had no conference bid, and the only solution was to do it myself. Which I did, and it was the worst nightmare of my life. I can say it now, twenty years later, because I know that people who were there remember it as a very successful conference. Only I know about all the small disasters, and in retrospect I shouldn't have done it, not there and then, but did I have a choice, a newly elected president with no conference bid?

Twenty years is a long time ago. I remember the board meetings leading to the conference: deciding on a theme, discussing keynote speakers, sending out call for papers. It was in the stone age before everybody had email - we sent 300 printed copies of the newsletter to forty countries. My department covered the costs.

Selecting papers, compiling the programme, finding session chairs. This was also the first year we gave the IRSCL book award. A lot of work for the board. But the bulk of the conference preparation was in Sweden, and I would have never managed it without the strong children's literature community, not just my university, but the Children's Book Institute, the Writers' Union, the illustrators, the libraries. I could arrange a reception at the City Hall, the venue of the Nobel banquet. There was an evening archipelago cruise with shrimp dinner and dance. There was a post-conference trip to the Astrid Lindgren theme park.

I made tons of mistakes, but I am not telling anyone, and it wouldn't be helpful because no conference is like another one.

I was re-elected for another term, but it was simpler because we had the next venue and theme, and the board meetings were less stressful for me. The 1997 conference was in York, UK, and I stepped down, but stayed on the board as immediate past president to ensure continuity. Almost the whole board stepped down, which is never good, but there was a new bunch of people coming in, and things were changing. In 1999, IRSCL had the first and only joint conference with the rival organisation, the Children's Literature Association. Some people wanted the two organisations to merge, while there was strong opposiiton to this. A one-off joint conference was a compromise. IRSCL had initially been a Euro-centric organisation, even though two presidents has been from the USA. The York conference yielded many British members, and after the 1999 conference in Calgary, which was great fun, a deluge of US members came. I was surprised to learn, at the membership meeting in Worcester last week, that a third of the members today are from the USA. There weren't as many in my days.

But my days are long gone. When I skipped 2001 in South Africa because we had just moved back to Sweden from California, I thought it would be just one time. In 2003, when it was in Norway, just around the corner, I had prepared a panel with my colleagues and students from the Nordic Children's Literature Network (NorChiLNet), but had to cancel at short notice because of severe health problems. I missed Japan in 2005 and Ireland in 2007 for the same reason. I went to Frankfurt in 2009 because it was a reunion: 40 years since the organisation was founded, and all past presidents who were still alive were there.

I missed Brisbane in 2011 and Maastricht in 2013 for various reasons. It was sad, because I once invested so much in this organisation and it meant so much to me. Therefore it felt such an honour and pleasure to be asked to do a keynote in Worcester. How many years after presidency do you need to be in quarantine?

I believe I was the longest-standing member at that conference. The membership meeting asked me for clarification of some history. On the last day, a French colleague arrived. It was the person who asked me a question at my very first conference in Bordeaux in 1983.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Conference nostalgia

Just returned from Worcester and the biennial conference of the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL), I cannot help drowning in nostalgic memories. I knew I had written a blog post about the Frankfurt conference in 2009, but I didn't remember that I had also written about missing the Brisbane conference, and generally about some fond IRSCL memories. So this post will inevitably have some repetitions, but as a veteran, which I am, I felt weird when people said, proudly: "I have been a member since 1991". OK, I have been a member since 1983, and I participated, as a Jack-of-all-trades, in 1981. It is a very long time. More than half of my life.

In 1981, I wasn't a member and could not even dream of becoming a member because at that time, you were only elected into the Society if you were an established scholar, with at least one published book. By 1983, the rules had changed, and I became a member with my two publications in Russian and a handful of semi-academic articles in Swedish. I was a PhD student. I submitted a paper proposal which was rejected (I would have rejected such a poor proposal today), but I decided to go anyway. The conference was in Bordeaux. When I arrived and collected my programme, I saw my name there. I hadn't even brought my paper, but fortunately the organiser had a copy (it was in the stone age when we made xerox copies of typewritten papers). I was scheduled in the very last session, on the very last day, when half of the delegates had left. I got one question, unrelated to my paper. An old lady from the audience chastised me afterwards because I had read too fast and held the paper in front of my face (she was quite right of course). But because my topic was on fantasy, when the theme of the next conference was discussed, it became fantasy and the fantastic. Of course I had to go to that.

The 1985 conference was in Montreal, the French university, and the organisers pretended that the English part of Canada did not exist. Not one single Anglophone Canadian scholars was invited. My paper was on Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, and I was paired with a German colleague who criticised the novel down to nothingness, and it was hard for me to come with my hugely appreciative analysis.

The 1987 conference was in Cologne, and I have vague memories of it, apart from a boat trip and a visit to a museum where a guide, obviously misjudging the audience, explained the difference between Renaissance and Romanticism.

The 1989 conference was in Salamanca, and half of the sessions were in Spanish without translation. It was the first time I was asked to chair a session, which is a recognition of your scholarly status. There were two famous scholars in the session that I chaired, and they eventually became good friends. This was the conference at which I determined that I would never again find myself in a situation where everybody went off to dinner with their friends and I was left behind. Therefore I said to several people whom I knew and some whom I had just met: "There is a bunch of people going out tonight, would you like to join?" And I ended up with a lovely bunch of people to go out with.

I was asked by the IRSCL board to edit a volume from that conference, but all the best papers had been snatched, and it wasn't an enjoyable task. It was a h-ll of a task. The manuscript had to be camera-ready, no copy-editing, no proof-reading. The publisher was in the USA, and we communicated by fax. I was a very inexperienced editor and not a native speaker. It took weeks to send the proofs back and forth across the Atlantic.

The 1991 conference was in Paris. All papers had to be submitted in full and were printed in a brochure. As people were giving their presentation, the audience was reading the printed paper, turning pages audibly. One brave colleague stood in front of the audience and said: "You have my paper in the brochure so you can read it, therefore I will give another paper".  Which he did, without even having a written text.

At this conference, I was elected to the Board. I was tremendously happy and proud of myself. It was a good board, all female for a change, and we had the first board meeting in Cadiz, in the Spanish colleague's summer house by the ocean. Many meetings were to follow, although I missed the second of that round, in Toulouse, because I was in the USA on my Fulbright at the time. In fact, I had just returned from the USA when the 1993 conference was on, and I had almost decided not to go. But I did, and it changed everything.

To be continued.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

My contribution to the Harper Lee controversy

I am usually sceptical of sequels, prequels, midquels and sidequels, although they can occasionally be worth reading for various reasons. I am hugely sceptical of all kinds of Ur-texts, other than for purely academic purposes. There is, for instance, a whole book of early versions of The Master and Margarita, where you can trace all the intricate reworkings in plots and characters, but they are nothing like the final version (and, of course, there isn't even a final version of this particular novel). I am not an archive person, but I have for professional reasons read early unpublished drafts of some famous novels, and they are just that, early drafts. If you are working on a specific text from a specific angle, early drafts can be illuminating. But it's important to remember that they are drafts, not intended for public perusal.

I was sceptical toward Harper Lee's so called new novel ever since it was mentioned, and in the hype just previous to publication I became still more sceptical. I read the first chapter released some days earlier and was not impressed. If I had read this first chapter out of context I would say it was sentimental garbage and never considered reading any further. However, some colleagues had also read the chapter and thought it was good, and I am always prepared to take colleagues' advice and give a book a second chance. I also felt that I could not go on saying that the book was rubbish and merely a publisher's gig (a million copies pre-ordered!) unless I had actually read it. I decided that I would read it for what it was, without comparing it to Mockingbird. As a professional reader, I can do it.

I bought a Kindle copy and started reading the second chapter on the release day. It went from bad to worse. The characters did not interest me, the dialogue was pathetic and used to carry the plot in a most amateurish way; the narrator's voice was didactic, everything was spelt out. There was no conflict, no plot development, nothing at all to attract my attention. Profoundly bad writing. Again, I would have put it away under different circumstances, but I hadn't even reached the episodes discussed in the pre-reviews: the darker sides of Atticus Finch. So I went on. There were a couple of slightly more vivid passages, always flashbacks into the protagonist's adolescence, with some painfully trivial episodes such as her terror when she gets her period or believes that she is pregnant because a boy kissed her on the mouth.

I persisted, and then suddenly, when she discovers that her adored father is a racist, it became intensely good. It was still a typical example of belated parental revolt, accompanied by realisation that all her happy childhood was an illusion (for instance, that their black servant Calpurnia wasn't as devoted as little Jean Louise believed). The good part was perhaps ten pages, followed by an unbearable sermon by Jean Louise's uncle and an explicit quarrel with the father that, if anything, shows that Jean Louise is indeed more prejudiced than he. And they live happily ever after. Sort of.

One star on Goodreads.

It so happened that the cottage where I spent my holiday week had a good library that included To Kill a Mockingbird, so I started reading it immediately after finishing Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird has never been a great favourite, but it is an important book if you are a reader and more so if you are a professional reader. I first encountered it as a stage version, performed by the State Children's Theatre in Moscow, all the more surprising because the famous film was rated 16+. We had to read it in my English class in college, but I don't think I understood much of it then, definitely not what was so great about it. Which is the narrative perspective. Scout is looking back on her childhood, “when enough years had gone by to enable us to look back”; but she is still very young to understand what happened, and she definitely did not understand what was happening as she experienced it. People around her believe that they can discuss anything in front of her and even allow her to watch a rape case trial, because she is too young to understand. As a narrator, a lightly older version of herself, Scout does not question her own ignorance and does not offer a better understanding. On the contrary, at the time of narration, she is mostly focused on the fact that her brother once had has arm broken. This is exactly the kind of event that a young child would be interested in, and everything else is just a backdrop. The poignancy of the novel is the total discrepancy between what the narrator is saying and what the reader is supposed to infer. To see the backdrop in spite of the narrator obstructing it. This is why I have always said that to use Mockingbird in schools is pointless and even unethical: you have to be a mature reader to cope with this narration. (You also need to know a lot about American history, but that's a different matter). Mockingbird is similar to What Maisie Knew: employing a child as a lens, at the child's expense.

This aspect is still stunning on re-reading. Otherwise, I had no memory of the slow plot in the first half of the novel, mainly telling about two or three summers full of games, interspersed by horrors of school. Had it been told in the Watchman mode it would have been tedious; as it is, it serves as a very long prelude where glimpses of Atticus Finch's human rights engagement may be traced, and Boo Radley's possible crucial role in the plot is hinted at. The famous courtroom scene is quite short, but long enough to see how it has been pruned down from the uncle's speeches in Watchman. Generally, although Mockingbird is endlessly better than the draft, some of the draft's flaws are tangible.

Because I read one text immediately after the other I could spot verbatim passages, but they were few and far between. The Tom Robinson case takes half a page in Watchman, just as an example of how Atticus has changed. But then, Jean Louise of Watchman may misremember. She has an idealised memory of her father. We don't know what he really was like.

To compare Atticus in the two texts or, moreover, claim that Atticus of Watchman can change our view of him in Mockingbird is nonsense. They are two completely different fictional characters who happen to have the same name. Neither is Jean Louise in Watchman the same character as Scout in Mockingbird. She may be an early version, tested and dismissed.

I am glad I have read Watchman, and still more glad I had an occasion to re-read Mockingbird and confirm that it isn't a masterpiece it is always presented as. Maybe, as often happens, most people know the story from the film. It has an important political agenda and has been hugely influential. Every student of literature should read it. Recommend it to your mother-in-law's cousin? Depends on their reading preferences.

As to Watchman, the publisher has made a lot of money out of a soap bubble, as publishers do. If I were ever to teach creative writing, the two texts would be perfect on the syllabus, to show what a long road there is from the first draft to the final one.