Tuesday, June 27, 2006

HEARING FROM HARPER LEE. First the world learns that Thomas Pynchon has a new novel scheduled for release in December. Now it turns out that a sweet letter by Harper Lee is in the first summer reading issue of O, The Oprah Magazine--it's the July 2006 issue, on sale now!

Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, reminisces about the role of books in her Depression-era childhood. "Do you remember," she asks Oprah, "when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn't know how?" Her family read to her when she was little--"it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime." Books were scarce, but she and her friends traded to build up their series collections: Bobbsey Twins, Rover Boys, Tom Swift. (I don't know if Lee realizes it, but Uncle Wiggily author Howard Roger Garis also penned Tom Swift and Bobbsey Twins books; Garis's wife Lilian wrote Bobbsey Twins books, too.)

"And it wasn't until we were grown, some of us, that we discovered what had befallen the children of our African American servants," Lee continues. "In some of their schools, pupils learned to read three-to-one--three children to one book, which was more than likely a cast-off primer from a white grammar school."

Lee expresses her abiding affection for words on paper (as opposed to text on computer). "Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up--some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal."

In addition to a few photos of Lee from 1961-1962, items of interest in the magazine include Amy Bloom on Grace Paley, "The Reader as Artist" by Toni Morrison, and short short fiction by the likes of Amy Hempel, A.M. Homes, Anna Deavere Smith, and John Edgar Wideman. Also, there's Jeff Goodell on women in West Virginia fighting to improve conditions in coal mining country. Plus, there's Tom Chiarella on breast implants and, of course, Dr. Phil.

Thanks, emdashes, for the lead. Any day now, I expect to learn that J.D. Salinger's tell-all autobiography is due in bookstores by year's end.

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