Thanks to an intensive French class in eighth grade, Northbridge native Kathleen Turner found her second language and career. The girl decided to become a language teacher. The Harvard graduate, who can be found drilling students on French verbs at Sharon High School, was just named Massachusetts teacher of the year. As the French would say, “C’est formidable.”
BOOKS: Do you read in French for pleasure?
TURNER: Yes. I found two novelists I really like and have been devouring. One is Guillaume Musso. I read his most recent, “L’Appel de L’Ange.” The other is Marc Levy, such as his “L’Etrange Voyage de Monsieur Daldry” and “Le Voleur d’Ombres.” They are on the top of the bestsellers’ list in France, especially Levy. It’s not highly complex writing, but it really sucks you in. I also have recently been reading a lot by Tatiana de Rosnay, the author of “Sarah’s Key,” who also writes in French.
BOOKS: How do you find the books you read in French?
TURNER: When I go to France for the summer, I go to the bookstore and see what’s selling the best and what the employees’ recommendations are. I was just there for a two-week exchange, and my host, who’s a teacher, had recommend Anna Gavalda’s “Ensemble, C’est Tout” and Patrick Morel’s “Double Meurtre à Rouen,” a mystery set in town where I just spent two weeks for student exchange.
BOOKS: Do you read French literature?
TURNER: Not as much.
BOOKS: You probably read most of the canon in college, right?
TURNER: It was spotty. The undergraduate program at Harvard University was focused more on literary theory and women’s studies. I read some of the classics, a little of Moliere, but it was not heavy on the canon. I didn’t love the program to be honest.
BOOKS: Of the ones you haven’t read in the canon, which is at the top of your list?
TURNER: What I would like to read and understand better is Proust. It was hard, hard, hard to get through that in French. I would also like to reread “The Red and the Black” by Stendhal.
BOOKS: When you read in English, what kind of books do you like?
TURNER: I go from mysteries by James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell to this year rereading “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights.” I also read Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” for the first time. I loved it.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
TURNER: Last night I just finished a book that a student recommended, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. It takes place in a boarding school in which a student commits suicide. It’s very well written, very thought provoking. I like reading things like that to remind me of the complexity of teenagers’ lives. It’s so easy to say: Why aren’t you doing your homework? I have to constantly remember that I don’t know what is going on in this kid’s life.
BOOKS: Do you emphasize the importance of reading to your class?
TURNER: Yes, and it’s extremely hard. I struggle every year because they don’t even read books in English. They find the CliffsNotes, watch movies. So when they get to French they don’t have the patience to read another language. They love to speak French but don’t have the tools nor the patience to read it.
BOOKS: What do you read in your class?
TURNER: In one class we read a kids’ book, “Le Petit Nicolas” by Sempé because it is fun and the level of vocabulary is appropriate to them. Right now my favorite book in the entire world is “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry because of all the themes and philosophy. My students always tell me it’s the first time they are thinking about philosophy. However, I think some of them are reading it in English.