I’ve always been a ferocious reader. I had the great fortune to have a father who let me read absolutely anything I wanted from both his own library and the town library (he had to sign a paper saying that I could take books from the adult section when I was still a child) and who encouraged me to use a dictionary. I’d be lying in bed reading at night and call out hopefully “Dad, what does ‘testimony’ mean” and he’d inevitably reply, “Look it up in the dictionary”. So I’d take my trusty Pocket Oxford from the bedhead behind me and look it up.
As a result, I grew up knowing the real meaning of words and how they are used. And I love words. I loved the Latin at church and I adored learning French at school. And my love of reading has never left me. I remember the very first book I ever read – an abridged version of Peter Pan. I think it probably shaped my whole life. I was fanatical about the Pollyanna series and read and reread them constantly. There was also Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, What Katy Did and The Bobbsey Twins, The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. But I soon left them behind for Gone with the Wind and Anna Karenine.
Dad had the complete collection of Maupassant’s short stories and novels (in English of course) which I devoured. How much I really understood I don’t know, but it introduced me to the fascinating world of France. My love of literature and French led me to an Arts degree with French honours despite my mathematical leanings and I was overjoyed when I came to France to discover that such a thing as a technical translator existed. I went on to get a masters in translation at ESIT in Paris and have been a freelance technical and legal translator ever since. What a wonderful excuse to have a bookshelf full of dictionaries of every kind!
One of my big problems has always been to find enough books to read particularly on a reduced budget when my children were small. Libraries obviously solved the problem for French books. I also made the wonderful discovery that my beloved Russian novelists translate much better into French than into English. Fortunately I found a library nearby which had a good collection of English novels so I reread all the classics. My taste in reading is very eclectic and I’ve always loved rooting around in other people’s libraries to see what I can find. I’ll read anything that someone recommends.
When I began teaching translation at ESIT, I started swapping books with my students. With the coming of Internet, especially sites like the Book Directory and Amazon where you can get the latest novels (well practically) without having to pay postage, my access to books changed dramatically. I can talk to my aunt in Australia about what she’s reading, order her suggestions off the Net and receive them within a couple of days! When we moved into Paris, I found a wonderful source of second-hand English books at Book-Off on rue Saint Augustin. AT 2 or 3 euros a time, I can fill my carry bag. They also buy the books back again (at 20 centimes!) thus eliminating the problem of where to put all these books once I’ve read them.
But there I was the other night, wandering aimlessly around, sifting through my bookcase and wondering what on earth I could find to read. I was sure I had a whole stack of unread books on a shelf somewhere. Sadly, that was not the case. I finally found Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day which I had totally forgotten and am thoroughly enjoying.
But now, thanks to Leonardo, I have a Kindle with international 3G so will never be short of reading material EVER AGAIN – provided I remember to charge it of course!