Before I moved to Turkey I broke down and bought a Nook. My aversion to E-Readers didn’t outweigh my desire to constantly have books with me and since bringing my library of several hundreds books to Turkey was nixed by my limitation of suitcase space, a Nook seemed the second best option. (I ended up actually only bringing 15 physical books, which is impressive for me.) Of course I picked the simplest, cheapest one I could find and even that one (the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight, in case you were wondering) is fancier than I really need it to be. If only they would sell them with that used book smell…
I’m still on my kick of reading 30 books this year, though I’ve only just reached the halfway point nine months in. I’m in love with David Sedaris and one of the books I downloaded to my fancy new digital, black magic library was Me Talk Pretty One Day. Somehow I’d managed to overlook this classic when going through my Sedaris binge a few years ago. But I’m glad of it, because it fits perfectly with my current situation.
The book is essentially a collection of short stories based on various events in Sedaris’ life. Quite a few of the stories are based on his life in Paris and that’s where our situations connect. He moved to Paris with his partner, but knew only two words of French when he first moved there: “bottleneck” and “ashtray.” When I moved to Turkey, I knew maybe eight Turkish words, granted a bit more helpful than “bottleneck” and “ashtray.” But the point is that as he lived there longer, he began to write words on note cards and expand his vocabulary. He went from two to 200 to 600 to 1000. I cannot tell you how many words I know in English or German, but I can literally count up the words and phrases I know in Turkish and as Sedaris says, “It was an odd sensation to hold my entire vocabulary in my hands.” Imagine that your day to day life is based off of less than 30 words!
And it’s not just speaking them that’s exciting, but recognizing them as well. In one scene, he explains that if something were to happen to his notecards, he worried that “I’d be back to square one with bottleneck and ashtray and would lose the intense pleasure I felt whenever I heard someone use a word I’d come to think of as my own.” And it’s frustrating to have a limited number of available words. How do you show people your personality or that you’re actually an intelligent person when you can barely have a conversation with them, because you can only speak so many words and only understand a few more than you can speak?
Sedaris goes on to explain another instance where his teacher, who was a horrible woman, was insulting him. Usually he felt shamed when she went on a rant, especially since he only understood a percentage of what she said. But once day he could understand everything she was yelling at him: “Understanding doesn’t mean that you can suddenly speak the language. Far from it. It’s a small step, nothing more, yet its rewards are intoxicating and deceptive. The teacher continued her diatribe and I settling back, bathing in the subtle beauty of each new curse and insult.” Even understanding that you are being insulted is a huge achievement.
And I devoured every word of these stories because I could. Because I could understand them and appreciate them and their meaning. And I continue to do the same thing with my 30 words of Turkish.