When I was growing up, my father called me Emily Reader. The capitalization is my own, an interpretation of the way he said it. As though that were my name. My mother called me Emma Louise; my father called me Emily Reader.
A name is an identity, and Reader was mine, an identity I drew to during the years when everyone is trying to figure out who they are, when forging an identity becomes important. In the fourth grade, our teacher personalized that “don’t do drugs” speech by asking us to look around the classroom, calling attention to the fact that someone sitting in this room would offer us a cigarette, some day. It left me speechless.
In high school, I chose Reader. It made things a bit easier.
I buy my books used, when I can. Not only because it’s cheaper, but because I love finding the notes of other readers, other people like me, meeting these sentences for the first and hundredth time, so moved that they can’t help marking the page. My favorite is the exclamation mark. I know what it is to react in such a visceral way to words that there are none to describe it. There’s something nearly vulgar about it, like a gasp or a moan or a sigh.
Buying used books in France and in America are two different endeavors. In America, I’m overwhelmed by choice. I spent high school afternoons and vacations enveloped by the Strand, swimming in pages. I would leave with stacks of 20, so large I couldn’t hold them, so many it was comical. Linguistics texts and science fiction paperbacks and copies of classics that were well-worn so that Dickens could be rolled and carried in my cargo pants pocket and Vonnegut could be carried into a tree.
In France, books are French. It’s a different literature, a different feeling that comes from finding one I love. It’s more work to read in French, even now, less automatic, more difficult to get lost. It’s not that I don’t like getting lost in the livres de poche area of a bookstore, where even new books cost four euro. But when I stumble upon a bookstore with piles and piles of English-language paperbacks sitting out on the sidewalk near Saint-Michel, it’s like being back at the Strand. I page through them and stumble, not only on notes, but on forgotten postcards and entry tickets to the Louvre. I imagine the person who read this book on the flight over, found himself sacrificing it in favor of wedging a few more souvenirs into his bag for the journey back. And somehow, this book has found its way to me.
Mediterranean Pasta with Feta Sauce
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 eggplant, diced
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
150 grams uncooked whole wheat pasta
1 cup Greek yogurt
100 grams feta cheese
fresh black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the onion, cherry tomatoes and eggplant with the tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt. Add the garlic cloves to the pan. (Alternatively, wrap them in aluminum foil and add them to the pan.) Roast the vegetables, tossing occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes have shriveled and the eggplant has colored.
Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, preheat a frying pan over medium heat and add the teaspoon of olive oil. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Cook 3 minutes per side, until golden brown outside and cooked through inside.
Remove the chicken from the pan and dice. Return to the pan with the roasted vegetables, reserving the garlic cloves. Add the pasta and a small amount of the cooking water to thin the sauce enough to stick.
Add the roasted garlic cloves, yogurt, feta and black pepper to the blender. Blend until creamy and smooth.
Serve the pasta tossed with the vegetable sauce topped with the feta sauce.