How did you find your way to reading literary fiction and nonfiction?
I guess it all started with my grandmother reading St Exupery’s Le Petit Prince to me when I must have been around 5 or 6. My second literary encounter must have been Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (in French translation) by Lewis Carroll, which my aunt read to my cousin and I during a sunny summer in Brittany.
As you may notice, both were read to me. Although I could read perfectly well, it took me a long time before I started reading books. I think I must have been 8 when I started reading books (rather than magazines for kids), but then there was no stopping me. I would go to the library every week to borrow a few books and was treated to a new book every second Saturday by my stepmum. I remember that I would stay to choose my book while she would do her weekly shopping. From then on, I would always receive some books for Christmas or my birthday.
I had a lot to catch up on and what I was reading at the time was not literary fiction. I became engrossed in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Suzanne Pairault’s nurses novels for young teenagers, Jean-Paul Bonzon’s series about young detectives and Caroline Quine’s Alice series. These series were published by Hachette in the Pink (for the youngest) and Green (for young teenagers) collection (“Bibliothèque rose” and “Bibliothèque Verte”). I was also lucky that friends of my parents gave me a huge box of books that used to belong to their daughters. The thrill!
In the Bibliothèque Verte, you could also find some literary titles, such as Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier. Then there were also the junior branches of some well-established publishing houses in France, such as Folio and Gallimard, and that’s what I turned to next and how I was slowly introduced to literary fiction. I would really read a bit of everything. For instance, I remember going through an Agatha Christie phase. As I said before, I would raid the library, but also my grand parents’ attic, which would contain the books my dad and his brothers read before leaving their parental home. I was a real bookworm at the time.
Then, of course, there was school. It played a major role in introducing me to literary fiction, although it was not always a pleasant experience. I remember struggling to finish Uncle Tom’s Cabin the last year of primary school. Most books we read for school were French though: Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir, and so on. The problem with some of those books was that they were difficult to read and at the time, I wanted to read, read, read, and the difficulty of some classics would put me of, I usually preferred to read contemporary fiction. How often did I pick up Wuthering Heights in the library, but had to return it unread? My reading choices were therefore quite mixed and I suppose this is still the case, although literary fiction is more predominant now.