“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
These words of compassion spoken by Atticus Finch—the virtuous lawyer at the heart of Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill a Mockingbird—are still as resonant today as they were when the novel was first published 50 years ago this week. An instant success, To Kill a Mockingbird has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and is read by thousands of Americans each year, creating a shared experience among a diverse community of people who find personal meaning in the story of Atticus, Scout, Jem, and Boo Radley. The novel inspired a three-time Oscar-winning film, and Lee won the prestigious 1961 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. However, despite—or perhaps because of—the wild success of her first novel, Lee never wrote another one. However, To Kill a Mockingbird endures as an essential piece of American literature; according to a poll of librarians by Library Journal, it’s the best novel of the 20th century.
Atticus’s words remind me of what I have always appreciated about the Free Library: how easy it is to be able to—in fact, how you are very much encouraged to—climb into different skins and consider the world from multiple points of view. Whether attending an author event or browsing through the catalog, I frequently encounter viewpoints that challenge my own, perspectives that seem foreign at first. And in exploring those viewpoints a little bit more, my own outlook is questioned, refined, and even sometimes changed. Whether or not I always agree with what I hear or read, I always understand a little bit more. For that—and for Harper Lee’s lasting words—I am grateful.