Hungry and thirsty for books

I just read the essay written by Cathleen Schine in the latest New York Times Book Review.
Although she writes about her personal experience with what she calls her illiterate teenage years, the essay could only remind me of my own relationship with books. Among many other things, I agree with all my heart with the citation Ms. Schine picked from Italo Calvino: “A work read at a young age and forgotten leaves its seed in us.”
In the small French town where I grew up, the public library was housed in one aisle of a medieval castle. I can’t think of a better place to trigger thirst and hunger for stories. Shelves made out of French oak held more books that I could read in my life time. I was twelve years old when I figured that reading by alphabetical order would be a good way to start. That’s how I discovered Maupassant, Baudelaire, Camus, Zola, but also Kafka, Asimov, Bradbury, Steinbeck and even Dostoyevsky like Ms. Schine did among other writers. Of course I was overwhelmed. I bumped into words I didn’t understand, met extraordinary characters who lived fascinating lives which had nothing to do with my young life. I have forgotten details of the plots and even the names of some characters.
But the dream of a book has never left me since then. The expectation of delight when I turn the crisp first page of a new book is still as exalting as it was when I was twelve and reading works written for adults and not for children. I was too young to understand their meaning yet I have no doubt that’s what left me thirstier and hungrier for more.

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