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Sam Tanenhaus

Why 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Endures

Harper Lee's dated classic isn't serious literature. It survives because the author creates a moral classroom for distracted students.
Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama, in May 1961.

Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama, in May 1961.

Photographer: Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Until a week or so ago, Harper Lee was the model of literary reticence. In the 55 years since the publication of her “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she had settled into silence, firmly resisting the pleas of her many admirers for a second book.

All that changed when her publisher, News Corp.'s Harper Collins, said it would publish a new novel by Lee in July in a colossal first printing of 2 million. The number could increase. Ten days after the announcement, the book, titled “Go Set a Watchman,” was still No. 1 on the Amazon list, ahead of both “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Lee, who is now 88, and her estate and her publisher are all about to get much richer.