Cover courtesy of Penguin Random House

“The writing that I’ve been immersed in for the past few weeks is that of the French author Annie Ernaux. On my bedside table I have a stack of her autobiographical books. Some I own and had read years ago, but others I was able to borrow. I have been an avid patron of Patten Free Library, here in Bath, for years, but it was not until the deprivations of the pandemic that I pillaged an even deeper treasure trove, the Maine Cat System, which permits readers to order books from libraries all over the state, including those of universities.

“Ernaux, now 80 years old, has been mining phases of her life in more than 20 slender, beautifully honed volumes since the 1970s. Her prolific work, well known in Europe, is distinctive in that her writing will often describe an incident or time period in exquisite detail as though it happened yesterday; for instance, in the book, ‘A Girl’s Story’ (Mémoire de fille, translated by Alison L. Strayer), her first sexual experience. Several paragraphs later, she seamlessly steps back to reflect, this time in the person of an older, experienced woman — herself as she is writing.

“These short autobiographies have become an impromptu tutorial as I ruminate on a memoir project of my own that covers a series of years that began in the ’70s and ends two decades later. Although oblique at first read, the closing lines from ‘A Girl’s Story’ provided me some powerful clarity — a way of thinking about and reimagining my personal history:

‘Among my papers I found a sort of note of intent:
Explore the gulf between the stupifying reality of things that happen, at
the moment they happen, and, years later, the strange unreality in which
the things that happened are enveloped.’

“Reading Ernaux’s series of memoirs and ‘the strange unreality’ of the stop-start sense of time in which we live right now have become fine companions for me, providing a fertile seedbed for ideas and language. I look forward to discovering what germinates…” — SUSAN T. LANDRY, Bath-based writer, memoirist and poet

Mainers, please email to tell us about the book on your bedside table right now. In a few sentences, describe the book and be sure to tell us what drew you to it. With the path of the pandemic again uncertain, we especially want to hear what you are reading in these turbulent times and why. Send your selection to [email protected], and we may use it as a future Bedside Table.


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