Harper Lee, who has published very little in the last 40 years, reminisces about learning to read in a Depression-era Alabama town in the current issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

Lee's contribution is considered a coup for Oprah Winfrey's magazine.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill A Mockingbird wrote only one book, but has occasionally written letters or essays for magazines. Her last contribution, in 1983, was a review of an Alabama history book.

Lee, now 80, stopped giving interviews, turning down requests from big names like Dan Rather, but she is seen frequently in her hometown of Monroeville and makes occasional public appearances.

The July issue of O is devoted to summer reading. Lee's contribution, accompanied by pictures of her with Gregory Peck and Mary Badham on the set of the movie version of her novel, describes a childhoodwithout movies, parks or other entertainment.

"Do you remember when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn't know how?" she writes, recalling that she learned to read by being read to by her family, everything from storybooks to the local newspaper.

"So I arrived in the first grade, literate, with a curious cultural assimilation of American history, romance, the Rover Boys, Rapunzel and The Mobile Press," she says.

Book-swapping popular

There was no public library, so every child who could afford books circulated his or her collection to every other child in town, she recalls.

"As we grew older, we began to realize what our books were worth: Anne of Green Gables was worth two Bobbsey Twins; two Rover Boys were an even swap for two Tom Swifts," Lee continues.

Lee wonders in print whether anything can replace the comfort of curling up in bed with a book.

"Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books," she says.

To Kill a Mockingbird is listed as a favourite book by many Americans. It is the story of a black man being tried for rape, told through the eyes of Scout, a tomboy whose father is defending the man.

Oprah's book club has been a powerful catalyst in publishing, propelling her choices into bestseller status.The summer reading issue of her magazine features a contribution from Toni Morrison and an article about Grace Paley, as well as reading suggestions for the summer.