Introducing: Open Wide the World through Books - a Series
The South of France, 1990s (the backstory)
As she talked about a book that she wanted me to read, Marie-Cécile took a worn journal down from the shelf above her antique dresser.
We were sitting in her small bedroom on an even smaller bed, in a tiny room barely big enough for its furniture, much less its two occupants.
Marie-Cécile, a Montpelier native, rented this tiny space as part of her first venturing from home. I was visiting her typically-French flat as a American teenaged expat who was happy to have made a local friend.
Marie-Cécile opened the journal and read a few short paragraphs aloud. I peeked over her shoulder to try to read along; my French wasn’t that strong yet and I hoped that by seeing the written words, I might understand the spoken words better.
Turned out, deciphering French handwriting was as challenging as understanding spoken French in my early months there. So I asked Marie-Cécile what she had read.
In a matter-of-fact manner that was hers as much as any Frenchman’s, she explained that she had read aloud her own personal summary and reflections on the book that she was recommending.
I must have looked confused, or maybe surprised. So Marie-Cécile explained that French people don’t simply read a book and move on; that would be as if they’d never read it, she told me in a voice that implied that this fact should have been obvious.
Instead, French readers -students and adults alike- take a few moments to summarize and reflect on each book read, she explained, recording those thoughts in an on-going journal.
Marie-Cécile illustrated this fact by paging through her journal, stopping at a various pages and telling me about the book each memorialized.
As I write this today, nearly twenty years later, it dawns on me that I never did ask another Frenchman -or woman, or child- if this truly is a custom shared by all countrymen. In a way, I think I might have been disappointed to learn if it weren’t; I’ve always strangely cherished the concept of a whole nation of people valuing books and reading and contemplation to that degree.
Chicago Suburbs, Present Day (the inspiration)
Fast forward two decades. A fellow Midwesterner and travel writer shares her “What I’m reading in January 2018” post.
As I read the post, an electricity runs through me. Suddenly, I feel like I am back in France, in Marie-Cécile’s room, learning the value of recording one’s readings all over again.
And I just know I have to do it, too.
Without intentionally making a New Year’s Resolution, I instantly know that I want to spend this new year in a way that I first discovered many new years ago: recording my readings, and reflecting on each. As an homage to my love of France. And books. And reflection. And friendships.
The Future (the series)
Because we are a travel family, in this series, we will exclusively share books on travels, cultures, anthropology, world history, and related.
And because we highly value cultivating a traveler's spirit even from home, we will also share occasions when our reading spurs us on to new experiences locally. Watch for book-inspired restaurant runs, museum outings, and more!
Join us this year as we share what we’re reading in our family.
And tell us what your family is reading. We would love to hear your recommendations!
Bonne lecture! (Happy reading!)
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