The Avid Reader

When Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center manager Leigh Yarborough was asked who influenced her love of reading, she turned to her mother for the answer.

“It was my great-aunt, Billie Bennett; although I didn’t fully recognize that until I asked my mother. I knew I was read to, often, in my earliest years, but didn’t realize Aunt Billie was the principal storyteller.

“Aunt Billie was a phenomenal person — a great cook with a superb sense of humor — who was always a little mysterious to me with some long-lost love story adding to her persona.

According to my mother, Aunt Billie was ever happy to read to me, letting me choose anything I wanted from the bookshelves. She’d read as long as I’d listen, and from my mom’s telling, my attention span was substantial then. Although the attention span is sorely lacking today, the seed she planted in those reading sessions took root, and my appreciation for a good story has never waned.

“That is what guides my reading choices still — I love a good story. I also love when someone recommends reading to me. I think books are very personal choices, and if someone recommends a book, a story, they are letting you in on a secret, something almost intimate, in a sense. Aside from personal recommendations, National Public Radio-reviewed books often make their way onto my reading list. I particularly enjoy suggestions from Scott Simon on “Weekend Edition.” What a treat it would be to have access to his book collection.”

Book_ToKillAMockingbird1. A great story that is likely on most Southerners’ must-read lists: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Both inspirational and historical, this classic story explores so many of the complexities that make some people better human beings.

2. Also a classic, my second pick comes from a younger fascination with “____” of the Month clubs. Most of the albums I acquired, and a few books, came to me this way. I selected one of the titles in my initial shipment because of a haunting Pat Benatar song by the same name, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I guess good stories make good songs, too. My English major college roommate instructed me to stick with Bronte’s novel; she thought it could lose a reader at the start, but it would be worth it. I’m thankful to her to this day for that advice.

Book_BestAmericanShortStories20163. The BMC is also responsible for my next choice: The Best American Short Stories yearly anthology published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I find short stories thrilling in their brevity, and they perfectly suit that diminished attention span. When an anthology arrived in the mail, my then-boyfriend (now husband) recommended another short story, and probably the best I’ve read, “Desiree’s Baby,” by Kate Chopin. I encourage reading it. To this day, even my own retelling of this tale makes me emotional.

Book_SquirrelSeeksChipmunk4. I will read anything by David Sedaris. He is is a humorist with a stinging wit and honest, albeit sometimes risqué, storytelling. He makes me laugh out loud, sometimes to the point of tears.

5. Finally, an excellent storyteller I’ve more recently discovered is Khaled Hosseini. An Afghan-American writer, his first story hooked me, but it was his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, that deeply moved me with powerful and at times disturbing storytelling. He intimately details the remarkable beauty and incredible harshness of his homeland in this story of the resilience of the human spirit and the awesome, indefatigable power of love. An amazing story.