April 30, 2014

Harper Lee agrees to release To Kill a Mockingbird electronically, still thinks “dusty old books” are better


Scout's my hero. Via HarperCollins.

Scout’s my hero. Via HarperCollins.

Nelle Harper Lee is remarkable for many reasons. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize-winning civil rights novel (which was also the only book she ever published), in the course of a year while being paid a salary by her friends. She’s the childhood friend of Truman Capote. She just turned 88 on Monday. And she’s finally changing her mind about ebooks. Sort of.

Lee announced via her publisher, HarperCollins, that she has agreed to the release of To Kill a Mockingbird in an officially sanctioned ebook format, scheduled to drop on July 8. According to the HarperCollins press release, Mockingbird “will be available as a straight text e-book, an enhanced e-book with extra exclusive content, and a digital audio, narrated by Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek.”

This is a significant change of mind for Ms. Lee, who in 2006 explained in an eloquent letter to Oprah that she had no intention of embracing the digital reading age:

“Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me… And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.”

With Lee keeping a firm litigious stance on all things Mockingbird – filing lawsuits against both her agent, Samuel Pinkus, as well as the Monroe County Heritage Museum over trademark and copyright violations – it seemed unlikely that the e-version of her novel would ever be released. Not that being print-only hurt business any. To Kill a Mockingbird “has sold 30 million copies in English worldwide, been translated into more than 40 languages, and sells more than 1 million copies each year,” reports HarperCollins. However, Lee has decided to reach out to the whippersnappers who may end up confusing her novel with an unexpected sequel to The Hunger Games series. She hasn’t changed her personal stance on reading electronically, of course:

“I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries,” says Harper Lee. “This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”


Sadie Mason-Smith is a Melville House intern.