(ITAL)"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."(END ITAL)
-- Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of America's most beloved books. The seminal tale follows Atticus, a courageous, strong-willed, morally impeccable lawyer, and his preteen daughter and teenage son as Atticus defends a black man wrongfully accused of raping a young white woman in a small Alabama town.
Published in 1960, the novel helped shape our national consciousness about race. It particularly helped whites reconcile with their racial past by offering a painfully honest portrait of those who manipulate and profit from race, and then counterbalancing it with Atticus -- patient, perceptive, honest, courageous, conscientious protector of the weak and voiceless. The father every child wants, the lawyer every defendant hopes for. The person we'd all like to be.
The combination of compelling characters and issues, an honest and contentious storyline, and its introduction in the early 1960s -- a time when the country was grappling with race -- turned "To Kill A Mockingbird" into an instant American treasure. According to a study by the Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature, it is the fifth-most-widely taught piece of literature in schools, just behind "Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth," "Huckleberry Finn" and "Julius Caesar."
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is at once charming and repulsive, forgiving and cruel -- all within the pages of one book. And for 50 years, that was the only way you could access the beautifully written prose of Harper Lee: in traditional book form. So, we were delighted when, in a rare public statement Monday, Lee announced that she would allow "To Kill a Mockingbird" to be offered as an e-book and digital audiobook, beginning July 8.
"I'm still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries," said Lee, 88. "I am amazed and humbled that 'Mockingbird' has survived this long. This is 'Mockingbird' for a new generation."
Indeed it is. According to the Kids and Family Reading Report, the percentage of children who have read an e-book almost doubled from 2010 to 2013. And one has only to follow the past week's news to understand the importance of continuing to expose new generations of Americans to this coming-of-age tale about race and stereotypes: Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's outrageous commentary about slavery, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's reportedly bigoted attitude toward blacks.
With "Mockingbird" now set for e-release, we can only hope that other major works follow suit. We nominate: "The Catcher In the Rye," "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" and "One Hundred Years of Solitude" to start.
-- Dallas Morning News