I started reading at a very young age. In elementary school, I would go to the library and pick out books that the librarian thought were too difficult for someone my age. From time to time she would ask me to read the first few paragraphs to prove that I could actually read and comprehend the text. I was a painfully shy child and being asked to read aloud, even just to the librarian, was difficult.
On at least one occasion, (although it may have happened more frequently) my sister was in the school library at the same time. I’ve never known if she just happened to be there or if she had been asked to go. But I remember her coming over to me, just as I was about to cry with anger and embarrassment and frustration, and saying, “Katie, just read me a little bit, like you do at home.” Reading to my big sister was something I could easily do, so I did, and proved to the librarian’s satisfaction that I could handle books meant for older kids.
I thought of this childhood experience yesterday as I stood in a bookstore in Nice, surrounded by French books. A few of us had made the pilgrimage to FNAC, a sort of Best Buy-meets-Barnes and Noble-meets-Starbucks in the center of the city. (Although, in the US at least, Barnes and Noble and Starbucks have already met…) Some people had reading lists provided by one of the instructors, but I was just wandering around, picking up whatever looked interesting. I spent most of my time in the Young Adult section, as I figured that about matched up with my ability. Thankfully, no one asked me to read anything aloud, but I did test myself: if I could read the blurb on the back and the first few paragraphs, it was a keeper.
Last night I started reading one of the YA novels I bought. Miracle of miracles, I could read it! And I mean really read it, without having to first translate every word into English in my head. I recognized some idiomatic expressions I had learned, and I could identify le gérondif, something I didn’t know existed as of a few days ago.
I don’t remember the experience of learning to read the first time; of how or when the shapes on the page resolved themselves into words, and those words took on meaning. But sitting on my couch last night in this little apartment, it happened again. And this time I was paying attention. And will remember.