Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Do You Remember When You Learned to Read?

Arkansas, 1938. A typical schoolroom Harper Lee might have known.

Do you remember when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn’t know how?

So begins a letter that Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote to Oprah Winfrey in May of 2006. As book lovers, we can all relate to her feeling that we were born knowing how to read, but we might not be able to understand the scarcity of books that plagued her childhood. There were no public libraries or bookstores near her, and she was a hundred miles away from the book section of a department store. As a child, Ms. Lee was starving for new books, but today, book lovers have the opposite problem: we buy more books than we have time to read (if only there were more hours in the day!).

Harper Lee concludes her letter by declaring her love for the physical book; something that we can identify with here at David, R. Godine, Publisher. We love curling up with a good book and being swept away by the magic and tragedy contained within the pages. Harper Lee writes,

And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter...some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.

One of our very own authors, Steven Gilbar, selected essays for The Open Door: When Writers First Learned to Read to celebrate the importance and joy of reading. Mr. Gilbar included an excerpt from To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), which was based on Harper Lee’s childhood in Monroeville, Alabama.

I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers...Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words...I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Join us in celebrating books and reading today!

For the full text of Harper Lee’s letter to Oprah, visit Letters of Note.

You can purchase The Open Door: When Writers First Learned to Read by Steven Gilbar on the Godine website.

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