2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of America’s most honored and widely read novels. When Harper Lee, a daughter of Mississippi, wrote the book in 1960, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing, with sit-ins, Freedom Riders, and school desegregation often in the news.
This year I made a list of books that I should have already read and resolved to read one a month. To Kill a Mockingbird was at the top of my list. I knew the outlines of the story, but I was surprised to find a good measure of humor and warmth, interwoven with a tragic tale of intolerance and injustice.
Eight year old Scout Finch, a child growing up in a rigid society with clear lines between races and socioeconomic classes, learns that her family has a different set of rules. Guided by a father’s uncommon integrity and their own innocence, Scout and her older brother Jem befriend those who are on the other side of the line and thereby learn many lessons about their world and its imperfections.
Harper Lee never wrote another novel, and this work of genius stands alone. It brings a Southern community to life with its distinctive mannerisms, memorable individuals, and the arc of a story that depicts the trials of growing up. I found it sad, funny, engrossing, and quite unforgettable.
To Kill a Mockingbird is available for loan to book clubs through the Indiana Humanities Council’s Novel Conversations program.