Writing materials

Nobel laureate Annie Ernaux explains how class shapes her writing

Annie Ernaux

For me, the library has always been the symbol of the educated class. Books, as soon as I learned to read, have been the object of an almost inextinguishable desire. Until the age of eighteen, this desire was difficult to satisfy because the books were expensive and we did not dare go to the municipal library – which was only open, to tell the truth, for two hours a week. ! It was no place for us. There were still bookstores, where my mother took me very early. She gave me books whenever she could.

As I explain in Empty Cabinets, I lived in books. They were a great source of knowledge and probably gave me this famous path with words. In fact, it was a path with writing, not with speaking: for a long time I spoke like everyone around me, while I tried to write like in books, and words in books seemed wonderful to me. With a certain cruelty and a lot of smugness, I sometimes used some of these words that I was sure the girls in my class or, worse, my father, would not understand.

I don’t think I’m going too far in saying that my life very early became involved, in reality as in my imagination, with books in general. But, precisely because of this familiarity, I don’t think I’ve ever had the same attitude of reverence towards them as my mother, even if for a long time I forced myself to read a book that I started until the end , driven by the hope that I would end up finding interest in it and also by a respect for the work of writing. Not today. I no longer have that unconditional respect. I would give up without hesitation a book—often a novel—which, I think, required great presumption on the part of its author to write, and weakness on the part of its publisher to publish it. But at twenty, I must have had the same presumption. . .

My father’s attitude was diametrically opposed to my mother’s. He ticked off my mom for reading novels — “even at your age,” he said. I remember her protesting, referring to me, “she’s into the books too much!” He often said: “the books are not reality” or “this is not reality”. I think those words meant a lot to me. Maybe I wanted to write to show my father that it was real. Maybe I want the writing to be reality.