During the fall season there is a mix of nostalgia and anticipation in the air.
Long and warm summer days are a souvenir, at least in the northern hemisphere, and we already miss them.
That’s why I choose to focus on anticipation.
Today the list of books for World Book Night 2014 has been released, a day before applications for the donors start.
In the fall I also choose to be honest, so …
I’ve only read thirteen books out of thirty-two.
Several are in my home library. Some are among my favorites. Most are great books.
And one holds a very special place in my heart but not because of its characters or plot or voice. When I saw that Waiting for Exhale was on the list for WBN 2014, my heart skipped a beat.
Terry McMillan was the first American writer I read in English when I arrived in California. Waiting to Exhale stood on a table at the local library so I read it by accident. The theme, the characters, and the plot were easy and engaging enough – a fun read. So when Ms. McMillan came to sign her book at Printers Inc. in Palo Alto, my husband encouraged me to attend the event.
When I entered the bookstore, a lively crowd of fans had already filled most of the chairs arranged in short rows for the event. I managed to find a free seat and waited for Ms. McMillan to appear. Cheering and clapping welcomed her. She opened with a few jokes. Well, I guessed they were jokes since everybody laughed and applauded. I squirmed on my chair, concerned that I might not be able to understand the reading. But hadn’t I been to similar events in France and don’t writers read from their books? I had read the book. I would be just fine.
When Ms. McMillan started to read a passage from Waiting to Exhale, I wondered why she was reading from another book. I was lost in a succession of incoherent sounds that didn’t make sense at all. Was she even reading in English? I should have brought a copy of the book, I realized. But I had borrowed the book at the library and had returned it a few days before. I left the bookstore before the end of the event. How did I think after so little time in California, I could follow the reading of a book? How could I have considered introducing myself to Ms. McMillan? She wouldn’t have believed for a second that I had read her book.
Night fell, slowly and softly, as nights do in California, and I should have felt comforted, yet at that moment, I would have given anything to be back in Paris. I was exhausted from always trying to understand and be understood. Even the muscles of my mouth and jaw felt tight and overworked. I had never considered that unknown sounds could physically hurt.
Even though my husband and our two very young daughters waited for me at home, loneliness weighed on me. One by one, stars appeared in the dark sky. I had never believed in any kind of magic, yet that night I made a wish upon a star. Or more accurately, I made a promise. I didn’t want to watch this country. I wanted to be part of it. I didn’t want to be only an observer and be observed. I didn’t want to be an outsider.
That night, under the vast, starry California sky, I decided that I would not only read English but also understand it when spoken by a native, and speak it and write it as a native.
Years have passed. My journey to complete fluency is not over yet. Once in a while, I wish upon a star, just because where I live the stars are spectacular. I’m not the observer and outsider I was when I couldn’t follow a book event. I am now invited to be part of book events. And yet, tonight, in addition to the nice tingling feeling of anticipation for World Book Night, there is a bit of nostalgia floating in my kitchen as I type this post.
This is because of the fall, I think, there is always a mix of nostalgia and anticipation in the air in the fall.