Reading Southern 1


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The books. The books I read when I was pregnant with all three of my babies told me: breastfeed*, trust yourself, and read to your babies. Those are still my top three bits of advice for expectant parents. Books are integral around these here parts. When my kids get excited about “library day” at school, I know I’m doing alright as a mama.

Books take you places.

Sometimes, though, it takes a while to recognize just where we might be going.

One of my kids struggles with novels, because she wants all the information right away. She wants to know: is this going to end well, why do I care about these people, and just what is happening?

It’s funny and frustrating. The first chapter of every novel is a lesson in patience. She can’t stand the not knowing. She has no time for breadcrumb clues. But. I had assigned her “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the summer. I knew she would love it, and I knew it would address some of the history we would be tackling this homeschool year. And stubborn child that she is, she insisted she did not understand what was happening in the first chapter.

I agreed to read the first chapter aloud so I could help her navigate the short lineage and fill in any of the language gaps so she could finish it alone. She settled into the corner of the sofa when we could have walked to the neighborhood pool. As I read, her sister wandered in and curled up. Before long, younger brother had wrapped himself around my legs and all listened, rapt.

As the book is set in the south, middle had requested I read the book in a southern accent. While this made my jaw sore, at one point, the kids asked me to try reading it in a “regular” voice. Three words in and they begged me to return to the drawl.

We read the book throughout the summer, and I worried. I worried how they would respond to the rather vulgar scenes of fatherly neglect. I worried that they would be as afraid of Boo Radley as I was as a child. I worried that the racism and the foreign to us 1939 mores would bother their precious intellects.

And while they did notice the rape-y, incest scene, (except for little brother…he wandered off for video games at that point) they noticed the lilting language, the perfect cadence and the amazing characters that seem to whorl off the page like some kind of juju magic.

It is magic. Words are magic. Storytelling is magic. How else to explain teenage girls sitting still long enough to hear one chapter read aloud and to beg for another.

“Just one more chapter,” is hard to resist.

*i am not militant! and I understand that every family needs to make their own choices about feeding their babies. I don’t care how you do it, as long as you feed them.


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One thought on “Reading Southern

  • Margi

    Love, love, love. I finally read this book when I was over 30 and wish I’d read it decades earlier. I also got to see the film with Gregory Peck on the big screen in Austin a few months later. It was divine timing.