Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is the rare American novel that can be discovered with excitement in adolescence and reread into adulthood without fear of disappointment. Few novels so appealingly evoke the daily world of childhood in a way that seems convincing whether you are sixteen or sixty-six.
Lee tells two deftly paired stories set in a small Southern town: one focused on lawyer Atticus Finch's defense of an unjustly accused man, the other on his bright, bratty daughter's gradual discovery of her own goodness. For many young people this novel becomes their first big read, the grown-up story that all later books will be measured against.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you’re a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Harper Lee (Bettmann/Corbis)
A segregated drinking fountain in the Jim Crow South (Bettmann/Corbis)
Mary Badham and Gregory Peck review the script on the set of the film To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962. (Universal Studios/Getty Images)