Harper Lee's novel, set in a small Southern town, also prompted reflection about racial attitudes. Trounstine asked if the book's African American housekeeper provided an entry point into the black world of the Deep South.
"I loved her because she brought the children to a black church," Berry said.
"That's insightful, Tina, tell us more," Trounstine inveighed.
"Come on," Berry protested. "Why do I have to speak up?"
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday January 12, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Literature program--A story in Thursday's Times about a literature program for criminal offenders incorrectly identified the position of Judge Joseph Dever. He is presiding justice of the state District Court in Lynn, Mass.
"Because you do," Trounstine told her, with a laugh that filled the room.
Berry said she dropped out of high school at 16 and struggled when she started Trounstine's class. But taking part in the seminar inspired her to sign up to take her high school equivalency exam.
"Granted, we only have to read one book every two weeks," Berry said. "But reading one book is a whole lot better than nothing. And it's a whole, whole lot more than I ever read before."
She Read Cisneros' Book 6 Times
Merritt, meanwhile, said she was so uninterested in the printed word that as a child she paid her sister in breakfast cereal to have her read the TV Guide to her. When Judge Dever proposed the literature seminar instead of jail, Merritt thought to herself, "What the hell is reading going to do for me?"
But she signed up "because I wanted better than I had." She limped through Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" But she loved Sandra Cisneros' "House on Mango Street" so much that she read it six times.
Trounstine, a woman with gold eye shadow, dangling earrings and a habit of calling her students "you guys," asked the class to list three qualities about their favorite character from "To Kill a Mockingbird."
The offenders, the probation officers and the judge got to work. But Merritt peeked up to glance in Trounstine's direction.
"Because of her," she said, "I read."