Book Lovers Enjoy Talking with Like-Minded Readers



Auburn University’s history icon, Dr. Wayne Flynt — along with his late wife Dartie — spent many days with Pulitzer-Prize winning Alabama author Harper Lee in the final years of the writer’s life. Flynt, a professor emeritus of history at AU, is a distinguished author himself. Lee wrote the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960. Flynt recently published “Afternoons with Harper Lee”, his second book on the legend who died in 2016.

“When she died, on her ottoman in her little two rooms was the complete anthology of all C.S. Lewis’ books,” Flynt recalled. “It must have weighed 50 pounds.” He noted that Lee preferred the King James Version of the Bible for its lyricism and had favorite authors including Lewis and Jane Austen.

Debbie Tung of Birmingham, England, wrote a book of cartoons in “Book Love”. A young man and woman are shown in a café where the man asks, “Can I buy you a drink?” The woman says, “No thanks. I already have one.” In a second sketch in a bookstore, another man says, “Can I buy you a book?” The woman responds by appearing to fall in love with the man.

What’s my point? When book lovers connect, they share a special bond. The connection between the Flynts and Lee is a perfect example of a friendship growing when a common interest in books, or in a certain genre, turns strangers into confidantes. To quote musician Frank Zappa, “So many books, so little time.”

Of the 16 personality types delineated by the Myers-Briggs psychological test, Mediators (code INFP) are “Idealistic with high values, they strive to make the world a better place.” This group reads an average of 68 books per year: astounding! In second place were Advocates (code INFJ); these are architects. “Highly logical, they are both very creative and analytical.” This type reads 67 books per year, on average.

On the low-reading side, Performers (code ESFP) are outgoing and spontaneous and enjoy taking center stage. The average ESFP reads eight books per year. Another type with a reading deficit, in last place of the 16, is the Caregiver (code ESFJ). Soft-hearted and outgoing, they tend to believe the best about other people. They read seven-and-a-half books per year per person.

“Here is what great writing has always done for readers,” wrote columnist Margaret Renkl in The New York Times. “It can transport us and delight us, yes, but it can also open our hearts. … The only real way to walk in another person’s shoes is to read another person’s story.”

Renkl said one of her favorite literary customs that was moribund for months was in-person talks with authors. This was derailed by the pandemic, although Zoom was active and appreciated. She is regretful: “I have so much missed sitting in an audience with people who love the same author I love, to hear a conversation — perhaps even raising my hand and joining the conversation — about a book that has made me see the world, or myself, just a bit differently.”

I recall two book signings at the Jimmy Carter Library that were very different. Salman Rushdie arranged for people seeking his signed novel to send their book to his assistant, so Rushdie could sign it in private. He was under a “fatwa” threat, after all.

By contrast, former President Jimmy Carter signed in person “A Remarkable Mother,” issued right before Mother’s Day, in 2009. In less than eight hours before the signing began, he was in the Mideast. For him at age 85 to sign books with such abandon was great customer service.

In 2010, I was on a panel at a history conference with Flynt and Glen Browder, a Jacksonville State University professor and former five-term Alabama congressman. I told a friend I wondered what would occur if Flynt, Browder and I as a graduate student were in the same car and injured in an accident.

I told my friend: “My name would be in the fifth paragraph of any story, because of the two very distinguished men — Flynt and Browder.” My friend laughed. The Flynts were book lovers to an nth degree. So was Lee. With “Afternoons with Harper Lee”, she is shown to be much more than the hermit she was portrayed as.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has master’s degrees in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to The Observer since 2011. He is a member of the national Education Writers Association (focus-Higher Education).


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