The horse's pasture to the East...

Monday, November 7, 2016

READ, READ, READ or the Voices Between the Covers of a Book

" Scout yonder's been reading' ever since she was born, and she ain't even started school yet. " Jem, Scout's brother, in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

I think I've identified myself with the fierce, brave, independent Scout, also known as Jean Louise, since I read Harper Lee's book the first year it was published in 1960. I was nine years old that year and had been able to read for as long as I could remember. My Mom told me I taught myself, put the idea of 'black lines' together with the stories I'd memorized when she read them to me before bed. When I was three, or there abouts, I read the book with her and, from there, generalized to other groups of 'black lines' in magazines, newspapers and books. I don't remember that though. I do know how excited I was every time we went to the library and how much fun it was to come home with a stack of books that I picked out. It was such a luxury, being able to spend a whole Summer under my favorite tree with my dog, Shotsi, laying across my chest with my books piled next to me and endless days ahead. 

I had bookmarks that I'd made from bits of construction paper and pictures in magazines, crayons and glue. Each book had it's own bookmark and I would read a chapter or two from one book, then switch to another story and read that one. My world was rich with Scout and Jem, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Joe from LITTLE WOMEN. I read about the LAST OF THE MOHICANS and the BOXCAR CHILDREN, NANCY DREW and the HARDY BOYS. I'd wonder from one time and place to another with abandon and no one to tell me I couldn't.

" 'd you see him, Scout? 'd you see him just standing' there? ... 'n' all of a sudden he just relaxed all over, an' it looked like that gun was a part of him ... an' he did it so quick, like ... I hafta aim for ten minutes 'fore I can hit something' .... "  Jem, just after Atticus shot Tim Johnson, the rabid dog, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

I still read all of those books from time to time. They've become dear friends who bring great comfort to me when the world seems to be rocketing out of control. I can step back in to those pages and relive their stories, 'listen' to them as they solve the problems in their eternal worlds during the Civil War, The Great Depression or World War II. If they could live through what must have felt like their end times then I can do that now, depending on what my 'now' is. 

When Martin Luther King was assassinated I read HUCKLEBERRY FINN. His epic journey down a river with escaped slave, Jim, was a story about a boy coming of age and realizing that everyone, black or white, rich or poor, had a story and a life worth living.

The NANCY DREW MYSTERIES taught me to be a creative problem solver, to do my research and to observe my world before forming my opinions. Even more important that set of stories showed me how to look behind the story, to see under the reflective surface that might not be what I thought it was.

Books, new story lines and old, are still my solace. And every year that I've read one of the classics I've found something new to learn, another character to identify with. Some of the recent novels are excellent reads to and nearly every author has an opinion or idea worth listening to. (I do wish the self published authors would use an editor though. Bad grammar, unless it's part of a character's language, and poor sentence and paragraph structure usually drives me away before the author has a chance to give me his 'world'. Guess I've become picky with age.)

" took an eight year old child to bring 'em to their senses, didn't it?" said Atticus. "That proves something - that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they're still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children ... you children made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough. " , Atticus the morning after the mob comes to the jail, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

I suppose, if I were a teacher, I would try to get my students to put down their smart phones and disconnect from the internet for a while. I'd give them a list of books to choose from, such as A WRINKLE IN TIME, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, JANE AUSTIN, LITTLE WOMEN, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, DUNE, or any of a thousand others. I'd ask them to read the book, spend a semester exploring the story line and characters, the author's life and what he or she had to say. And then I would ask for an essay and presentation on how they've related that book to whatever set of issues are relevant to them. 

I wish I could get people to slow down, take a breath and try on another's boots for a while. Turn off the TV and read, think, rest and let your inner voice take you on your own journey. Maybe we should take a page from our four legged friends lives and just let be. Breath. It's all good. And maybe we should listen to the inner voices of people from another age too. It would give us all a new perspective on the same old issues.

" Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. " Scout, as she remembered Boo Radley after Jem's arm is broken, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

The 'models' in my pictures are Apple, my two year old Golden / English Setter and Scout, my Heinz 57 variety, all of 4 1/2 months old. We spend our evenings on a corner of the sofa, in my favorite place where it sags just right. One of them or the other is in my lap, the other snugged up close or laying across my feet. My pile of books is there on the end table with bits of colored paper bookmarks and a notebook to write down my favorite quotes. I've been reading, reading, reading this past year while I search out my own answers to the dilemmas in my life, small and large. 

The voices are all there, talking in their own accents and limited to their eternal worlds, living between the covers of a book. 

I am, ever yours, Nancy, reading glasses on the end of my nose, smiling at you...

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