On Friday morning, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal both published the first chapter of Harper Lee’s highly anticipated novel, Go Set a Watchman. Published 55 years after her beloved classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has created a buzz rarely seen in the literary world. (Right now, more than two million copies sit in heavily guarded storage spaces and are being kept in tightly shrink-wrapped boxes until the book’s official release on July 14.) Today’s sneak peek of the first chapter adds to that breathless anticipation and also gives the world a first chance to listen to Reese Witherspoon’s narration of the upcoming book.
It makes perfect sense that Witherspoon would record the audio version of Go Set a Watchman. The Hollywood actress not only possesses a voice with that signature Southern twang—which fits with the novel’s Alabama setting—but Witherspoon has also quickly become one of the greatest champions of literature today.
A few years ago, after establishing her production company Pacific Standard with partner Bruna Papandrea, Witherspoon’s first big project was bringing Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild to the screen. Back in 2012, she was given an advance copy of the bestselling adventure/self-help book. She quickly realized the book’s big-screen potential and optioned the film rights three days later. Witherspoon also starred in Wild and the movie went on to collect multiple Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. Its success also further solidified Strayed’s literary dominance and pushed Wild to the top of the bestseller lists once again. That same year, Witherspoon also chose to produce the blockbuster Gone Girl, a full year before Gillian Flynn’s thriller was even published.
As it stands, Pacific Standard has nine upcoming projects on its slate, with more than half of the titles based on books by female authors. There’s The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan, which chronicles five relationships from five different eras, all loosely connected by a diamond engagement ring. There’s also Big Little Lies, a miniseries based on the suspense book by Liane Moriarty, about three mothers who become entangled in a murder mystery. The miniseries, which sees Witherspoon teaming up with Nicole Kidman, is one of their buzziest projects—some are already calling Big Little Lies the next True Detective—and Netflix and HBO already had a bidding war over distribution rights. (The latter ultimately walked away the victor.) Jessica Knoll’s latest book, Luckiest Girl Alive, about a New York City magazine editor with a shady past also just got optioned by Pacific Standard, as did S.J. Watson’s Second Life, which examines the dark, underground world of Internet sex and alter ego online personas.
But don’t think it’s just tales of love or mystery that capture Witherspoon’s attention. In March, it was reported she’s also set to produce, and possibly star in, the adaptation of Ashley’s War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, which tells the true story of a group of elite female troops stationed in Afghanistan.
As if bringing these stories to the big screen weren’t enough, Witherspoon constantly promotes the many books on her nightstand on her Instagram account. Her posts, which have included snaps of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Malala Yousafzai’s memoir, and many others, have become the equivalent of an Oprah’s Book Club stamp for the social media generation.
Through her production company, Witherspoon has not only become the new patron of women’s literature, but she’s also helped remedy the lack of three-dimensional roles for actresses in Hollywood. Witherspoon has mentioned in multiple interviews that Pacific Standard was born out of a frustration with the death of film projects for women over 30.Who knows, maybe she’ll even snatch up the rights for Lee’s latest; after all, in Go Set a Watchman, our little Scout is all grown up.
The post Reese Witherspoon Reads Harper Lee: How the Actress Became the New Patron Saint of Literature appeared first on Vogue.
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