BFAM Day 3: A Sense of Wonder Only Slightly Used

03May09
I met Melinda for lunch and exploration yesterday in Hillsborough Village, where she suggested we check out BookMan/BookWoman, a used bookstore she’d been to a few times.

I’m learning, very slowly, that there are things about Nashville that are absolutely spectacular. BookMan/BookWoman is one such thing. It was the size of a relatively large walk-in closet, and postively overflowing with books. There were tiny alcoves stacked to the ceiling with books. The aisles between the shelves were barely wide enough for one person to browse comfortably. In some places, old hardcovers teetered perilously on the top shelves. Everything was haphazard, but somehow organized. It smelled like dusty pages and kind of reminded me of my great aunt Vi’s old apartment. Now that I know it’s there, it’s going to be almost impossible for me to stay away.

I recently decided to go back to the literary classics. There are so many books that people classify as the height of literature, and lately, I’ve been feeling guilty for not having read them–or having read them because they were assigned in high school. I’ve been wanting to go back and read books that I’ve maybe already read, but I read them when I was too young to understand them, or too immature to properly appreciate them.

Yesterday, I hit the jackpot. I found a first edition hardcover of To Kill a Mockingbird, printed by Lippincott in 1960. I found a beautiful, illustrated hardcover of A Tale of Two Cities printed in 1946 that looks like it’s never been opened. I bought Dickens’s Oliver Twist, which I’ve never read, and Great Expectations and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, both of which I have read but don’t remember.

It’s been raining here for days, and after I left Melinda, I decided there could be nothing better than curling up in my arm chair with a cup of coffee and a new (old) book.

I read all of To Kill a Mockingbird last night. And I instantly remembered why it’s one of those books people don’t forget, why it’s the standard of comparison for any coming-of-age novel. I read it when I was a kid, but I know there’s no way I could have understood everything about it at the time.

Harper Lee’s language is so idiosyncratic, it’s hilarious. But her writing is so touching and moving, that Scout’s story is far from funny. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a character more likeable and admirable than Atticus Finch. He’s passionate and kind and noble and if I didn’t already like the one I’ve got, I’d want him to be my father. This book was so easy to get lost in and so hard to pull away from, I’m honestly not surprised I didn’t put it down until it was finished.

Everyone knows this story, so it’s no use going into it. But when I closed it, I felt a sense of loss; sad, more than anything else, that there are so few people like the Finches in real life.

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of geting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.

I doubt there’s another novel that comes as close to perfect literature as To Kill a Mockingbird.

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