I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in tenth grade and remember Scout, Atticus, and Boo to this day. The classic novel about racial inequality, coming of age, and gender roles celebrates its 50th anniversary on July 11. If you haven’t read Mockingbird yet, do it (full text in PDF here). Then watch the black-and-white film adaptation starring Gregory Peck. And please, in that order. If my word isn’t enough, take it from everybody else.
The novel gained instant and lasting success: 41 weeks on bestseller lists, a Pulitzer, adaption into a box-office-hit film that won three Oscars, etc. Unfortunately, Mockingbird was Lee’s only novel, and she has since avoided any publicity from it since 1964. Maybe she learned from J.D. Salinger.
Many readers view Atticus as the model of probity for standing up to Jim Crow South and defending Tom Robinson in court as his attorney and from the lynch mob as his personal bodyguard. Last year, the New Yorker‘s Malcolm Gladwell, always the contrarian, criticized Atticus for accommodating racism and not having any moral outrage. You can read it here.