Fifty years later, the TV shows are just now catching up to the humor in this story, which is often anthologized but still should be read more. I think of it often, and find it comes up in conversation more than most, and so when I say ‘best’, I really, really mean ‘best’. I think this is one of the finest American short stories ever written.

Students aren’t sure at first what to do with Julian and his mother and her racism. Isn’t she awful and embarrassing? Isn’t he? What is actual compassion and what is condescension? First, O’Connor is able to nail a certain white liberal guilt and objectification in a way I’ve never seen done so swiftly and deeply, but the story doesn’t end there and even the ignorant get a moment of humanity. Everyone, in some way, gets a moment of humanity. So, she was ahead of her time in terms of noticing the ways white people contort racism for our own purposes, and then she was ahead of her time in seeing underneath that, too. And, she made it work with a very funny, very vivid piece of storytelling.

Best Book of 1901: The Octopus
Best Book of 2003: The Curious Life of Robert Hooke