Across the state, readers are becoming reacquainted with Scout, Boo Radley and a book they probably first read in high school.

About 3,000 copies of Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" were handed out by about 100 groups — 77 of them public libraries — in advance of this month's Big Read in New Hampshire. The program is run locally by the Center for the Book at the New Hampshire State Library, and funded nationwide by the National Endowment for the Arts.

"The overall goal of the Big Read is to get as many people as possible to read for pleasure and to talk about books," said Mary Russell, director of the Center for the Book.

Russell said she hopes talk about the book goes beyond library discussion groups.

"If we can move common conversations beyond the weather and the Red Sox, then we've done something worthwhile," she said.

The novel, published in 1960, is about two children growing up in 1930s Alabama while their father, attorney Atticus Finch, is representing a black man falsely charged with raping a white woman. The book is a staple of high-school curriculums, and Russell said it has been a popular choice.

"I've been hearing from all kinds of people, saying, 'Oh, that's my favorite book. I can't wait to read it again,'" she said.

Libraries have joined with the legal community for programming to go along with the book, Russell said.

Tonight at Kimball Public Library in Atkinson, attorney Stephanie Hausman will discuss what it was like to be a defense attorney when the story took place and how it compares with today.

Library Director Diane Heer said they have handed out 75 books so far, and all four of the library's book groups are reading it.

"You read it as a high-school student, but you have more life experiences as you grow older," she said. "I think you can relate to the characters in the book and the whole race issue and the time period, and how different it is now."

Hampstead Public Library has held a special event with a lecture on the deep South, Director Peggy Thrasher said. Through the Big Read, she said the library hopes to attract less familiar faces to the library.

"We definitely get our standard patrons," she said. "But I think that the Big Read allows us to reach out a little bit more to people who don't participate in the library programming. At least, that's the hope."

Louise Pryor of Hampstead said she didn't like the book the first time she read it, but is enjoying it now.

"It's exciting to think the whole state is reading the same book, and there are activities going on all over the place," she said.

An actor playing Atticus Finch, Richard Clark, will visit the library March 22. He made a stop at Leach Library in Londonderry earlier this month, said Kendall Ann Koladish, senior public services librarian.

"He really brought the characters to life," Koladish said.

She said the novel has captivated people, young and old, for more than 50 years.

"We've had a very positive response to it," she said.

Michele Garneau, assistant director of Kelley Library in Salem, said the Big Read was a good opportunity for people to read, or reread, classic books.

"It kind of makes for a good community throughout the state because everybody is reading the same book," she said.

Other local libraries also are participating, including Derry Public Library, Nesmith Library in Windham, Plaistow Public Library, Colby Memorial Library in Danville and Gale Library in Newton.


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