Harper Lee has a gift for a new generation.

Harper Lee receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George Bush.
Harper Lee receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George Bush.

THE OLD GUARD OF LITERATURE don’t agree with it.

They don’t like it.

They figure change will the ruination of us all, and they may be right.

But slowly – and probably against their wills and better judgment – they are allowing themselves to be dragged into the digital age.

They are members of the hardback book generation.

They rose to prominence during the golden age of traditional publishing.

They are a select few.

And now they have reluctantly agreed to allow their priceless books to be prostituted and released as eBooks.

The apocalypse of publishing is upon us all.

They’re convinced of it.

But Ray Bradbury finally stopped fighting it.

So did J. K. Rowlings.

And, one by one, the dominoes began to tumble.

However, last week’s announcement was akin to an earthquake. At least, that’s what it felt like in the holy inner sanctum of publishing’s most sacred vaults.

Harper Lee, the inconoclastic Southern dowager who may be the crankiest and most reclusive author of them all, relented and gave permission to release To Kill A Mockingbird as an eBook.

It was a long time coming.

She is eighty-eight years old.

She never wrote or published another book.

She doesn’t give interviews. She never has.

But Harper Lee is still feisty.

She’s still courageous.

And now Harper Lee has a vision for the future.  In a rare statement, she said: “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries, I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long. This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”

And so it is.

The eBook will be released to Kindles, Nooks, Tablets and iPads everywhere on July 8, the fifty-fourth anniversary of Lee’s epic story about an Alabama attorney who defends a black man against charges that he raped a white woman. The novel has sold more than 300 million copies, has been translated into forty languages, and still sells more than a million copies a year.

Michael Morrison of HarperCollins, the novel’s publisher, said, “Every home has a dog-eared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, and now readers will be able to add this favorite book to their digital libraries. Although today is Nelle Harper Lee’s birthday, she is giving readers around the world the gift of being able to read or listen to this extraordinary story in all formats.”

That’s only the beginning.

For the first time, Mockingbird will also be available in a downloadable audiobook edition, taken from the existing CD narrated by Sissy Spacek.

There had been two great literature prizes missing in the digital age.

Now there is one.

J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is the last holdout.

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