Believe it or not, I taught myself to read at the age of four, even before I went to school. I was living above the school, my mother being the teacher there. She took it as an insult and would claim that I had learned all the syllables while I was rocking in her womb and she was teaching naughty and uninterested farmers’ children.

I started to read whatever I could put my hands on. I used to sneak in a tiny spare room filled with old clothes, seashells, Christmas boxes, stuffed squirrels and piles of French classics. At the age of seven or eight, my head was full of the colliers’ hunger and illnesses, Madame Bovary’s expectations and Julien Sorel’s struggles. I discovered The Human Comedy and stopped talking to adults, not wanting to take part in their masquerade.

Luckily, I had access to a few children’s books at school and developed a strong hope to be abandoned in the forest so I could find the gingerbread house, deliver my brother from the witch and bring back the treasure. I could have gone back on track as I stepped in my medium school’s library containing only “child proof books” like The Famous Five and Alice Détective (Nancy Drew in English) that I really enjoyed. However, at the same time I set my eyes on my grandma’s Harlequin collection. How I managed to swallow romance stories after romance stories without my grandma seeing any mischief in that is still a mystery. In high school, with all the mandatory well-written books I had to read, one would think I had no time for some silly or inappropriate reading. That was true, until my neighbor Marie-Reine, a housewife and mother of three, let me borrow all her cheap fiction books that could have place the Harlequin collection in the category of literary fiction.

It’s common to hear that to become a good writer you should read bad and good books. I don’t know if it works the same to become a good reader but I can assure you that I now choose carefully the books I read.

Written by Edwige Narbey