Thursday, October 26, 2006

Red and black notes

Yes, as a matter of fact I am reading The Red and the Black, and so are a lot of other people. If you are one of those people, or want to be one of those people, and you haven't bothered to look over there, assuming nothing would be going on over there, I did indeed post a schedule last week (take a look). Discussion on the first section opens November 6.

So get reading!

(What follows is not about the book — it's about reading the book in French; ie, there are no spoilers here.)

I have already read chapters 1 through 6 (those up for discussion first), and have shown admirable restraint in not reading further (really, if you could see me, you'd admire my restraint) and am exercising a great deal of discipline (and it really needs the exercise) to stick to the schedule, intending to read no more than the required reading for the week, even as I'm dying to know what happens next, because: 1. if I get too far ahead with reading, it's much harder to discuss what happened that many more pages beforehand; 2. a lot of people seem to be pretty good at, and enjoy, reading more than one thing at a time, and I think there must be some kind of trick to it that I haven't yet figured out and maybe it's time I did, even if it doesn't feel natural to me (if only for the sake of being able to hold a proper discussion on a book with people who don't read the way I do).

I did get an early start. Helena is to blame, having asked me one recent night for a French bedtime story. I had such a very hard time moving my mouth around the words — I sounded like one of those people who don't know how to read aloud! — and was struggling to figure out what was going on, and even though on some level I know my French to be better than was evidenced that evening (an unlucky performance — tired, distracted, simply not "on"), I shuddered to think I'd committed to reading Stendhal in French (No, there's no going back on this, dammit. Because I say so.).

So, with heavy heart and low expectations I picked up the French text. Maybe I could manage a page a day. I'd need a headstart if I wanted to participate in the discussion I'd scheduled. (Or maybe I'd have to revise the schedule.)

And I started reading. Aloud. Mistake, I soon realized. Not only were people (and the cat) retreating from me (the look in their eyes triangulating the intersection of utter boredom, disbelief, and fear), I wasn't understanding a thing, spending more time on making the sounds than deciphering their meaning.

So eventually I shut up. And I read silently to myself. I thought about hauling myself out of my comfy spot to grab the English edition and/or a dictionary or two, but inertia prevailed. So I skipped a bunch of words. But all of a sudden it started making sense.

I read all 6 chapters in French, and had some sense of the story. Then I read them in English, and my sense was somewhat fleshed out. While scholars turn to the original language for nuance of character in dialogue and descriptions, subtleties of intended meaning, I'm, for the meantime, the opposite, relying on the translator to alert me to those distinctions.

So, I'm finding my bilingual rhythm. I'm afraid if I read the English first, the French reading will be an afterthought, the mere scanning and flipping of pages. By reading the French first, I'm actually challenging myself to understand, and maybe learn something about the language along the way. I thought I might read a chapter at a time, but, in this portion of the book anyway, the chapters are too short for this to be viable; it takes at least the length of a chapter for me to feel the flow, and once the flow is felt, I want to know what happens next, without breaking from and "rereading" the story.

So far, so good. I can do this! I may have to set aside — schedule! — Stendhal nights, as this will take blocks of time; my usual method of cramming-in-whatever-reading-I-can-at-any-spare-moment is not going to work.

But I can read in French! Yay me!
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