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A Barnes and Noble media event with Kimberly Enlow. My neighbor and friend Kimberly Enlow is Community Business Development Manager at the local Barnes and Noble book store. So when she inquired if I would be interested in participating in a special event at the store, I didn’t think much about it. The event was a day-long public reading of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Kimberly was endeavoring to recruit enough readers to read the 375-page book from start to finish in one long day; in my opinion an ambitious goal indeed. A wonderful novel, but it had been almost half a century since I had read it last.

There was a stalwart young lady named Katy on reading duty to an empty row of chairs for listeners when I arrived. As a show of support I sat down and listened, and in a few minutes picked up where Katy was at in the thread of the story. Kim showed up with a smile and a cup of B&N java. When it was time, I began my stint at the reading. I had heard of such readings happening in literary circles and book stores, but I had never participated. It had been years since I had done any reading to an audience, and that had been at a writing club where we each read portions of our own material for critique by other participants. I was not prepared for what happened next.

As I began reading, I quickly got caught up in the material and the events, and almost subliminally became aware of the skill of Harper Lee, who in 1960 managed to deliver social commentary, not as a dry polemic or as editorial lecture thinly disguised as broadcast news, as is so much in vogue today. Harper Lee didn’t preach or scold, but through the skilled use of narrative and dialogue of fictitious characters who came alive on the pages, she transported us to another time and another place to fully experience the pathos and humanity of the prejudices, loves, loyalties, and hatreds that can be found at any time and in any place. She opened our eyes and made us in turn laugh, cringe, experience shame, and even cry. There were pages and paragraphs where it was difficult to finish reading a sentence out loud. And through it all, somehow each of us managed to relive aspects of our own coming of age through a story that is essentially about two children who are learning about the world they live in.

When I paused at one point, there were a couple women standing nearby who had been listening. I noticed the slightest tremble in the voice of one of them when she said she just loved this book, and I could swear I saw tears held back with considerable effort. I understood because I had my own reasons for pretending to take a break.

For most of us, reading out loud requires considerable focus, at least if you are really into the story. It is difficult to even look up from the book without losing your place and momentum. As I sensed activity in our area of the store, but not willing to break concentration, you can imagine my surprise at what followed. You can watch it here.

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