North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

January 3, 2013

Melanie Patterson: Reading with friends makes books better

By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — Every three or four years I re-read what I think is one of the finest pieces of American literature ever written.

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a classic for a reason, as they all are.

I just finished it — again — last week.

Every time I read the book, new dynamics emerge. Perhaps it’s me: Every few years, I have had different life experiences, not to mention having had considerably more of them.

As a kid, reading the book for the first time in sixth grade, I identified more with Scout and Jem and Dill.

Now, sneaking up on 40 years of age, I feel more in tune with the ideals of Miss Maudie and Atticus and Calpurnia and some of the other extremely intelligent and wise characters. (OK, that last was part was just for my own ego.)

Reading the book at my age and for probably the eighth or ninth time made the experience different this time around — as it is with each reading. But another thing that breathed more life into the tale was the fact that I was reading it with a friend who lives 800 miles away.

When I learned that she had seen the movie but never read the book, I took it upon myself to remedy what seemed like a heinous crime.

The progress was much slower than if I had been reading it alone. We kept pace with each other so we could talk about the events of the book and give our lofty opinions about the writing style and other matters. We sort of had our own mini book club.

But I discovered that reading the book more slowly, and discussing it, made the experience so much richer. There was no skimming. Not a sentence was skipped.

The result was, for me, a more profound and meaningful interpretation of the book than ever before.

And one thing less academic did make me smile. My friend said I talk like Scout from the movie version. Coming from someone born and bred in Kansas, I suppose that is true to her midwestern ears.

Before I go on, I do realize I’m revealing quite a bit of my inner nerd with all of this talk about reading books with my friends. But it just can’t be helped. I do love reading for recreation, and I especially love “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Next, we are going to tackle John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which my friend will identify with more than I will since she lives very near the area that was devastated during the Dust Bowl. Her family members recall it and have their own stories.

Have you seen how thick that book is? This could take awhile. But I can’t wait.