It's not very often in life that you read something that resonates so deeply as to alter your way of perceiving the world — a rather grandiose statement to start off a humble blog, but it's hard to get people's attention these days, and to keep it.
Two tiny paperbacks I picked up in France had titles like an invitation: Une Petite robe de fête (A Little Party Dress), and L'Inespérée (I Never Dared Hope for You) by Christian Bobin. Two of those slim, discreet white volumes printed on poor quality paper that yellows within the year. But their size meant they could fit in my handbag, and one morning on a slow commute from Marin County into San Francisco I pulled one out and began to read, and the texts that had refused, stubbornly, to resonate a few years earlier when I bought the books now seemed to open up, like a good wine left to come to room temperature. In France, when I bought them, I had just finished reading Corelli's Mandolin; these little French texts were no match, at the time, for the noisy gaiety of that fat and entertaining volume. But now, on the bus, I looked around and I was no longer a simple passenger on her way to a dull day job: my life had an odd new glimmer to it, full of possibility and tenderness, and the knowledge of a hopeful elsewhere.
How do you honor a book that you love? You can reread it, leave it in a place of prominence on the bookshelf, tell everyone you know to read it, blog about it, start a book club to have others read it. Except that these books were written in French, and I was living in California, and Francophone friends were few and far between. In France, Bobin needs no introduction; some of his books have sold over 100,000 copies. He has a loyal, almost cult following, which he seems to find almost embarrassing; he lives in reclusion on a farm in Burgundy.
Then again, I reasoned, I'm a translator, I could translate these books, and offer to share the work with a wider world.