“Reading My Mom’s Words Was Uncomfortable”: AUC Student Olivia Lance Shares Her Favourite Book from Home

By Natalia Zalega

Illustration by Sabine Besson

AUC’s 900 students come from more than 60 countries. The Herring has talked to several of them, all coming from different parts of the world, and asked them to share a book that reminds them of a broadly defined home. A piece of literature that they think is representative of their country. The conversations involve the importance of language, nature, history, political situation, and personal family stories. Join the journey through AUC’s cultural diversity via the intimate conversations about literature. Today: Second-year Olivia Lance from the United States shares her story about the book Ocean in My Ears by Meagan Macvie.

“Before I came to the interview I struggled deciding which book reminds me of home most. Now it’s obvious. Ocean in My Ears is a book by Meagan Macvie – my mom. It is about growing up in Alaska, the place where I come from. It has my family in it and my mom dedicated it to me. It describes the experience of growing up somewhere that is small and conservative – something that keeps me grounded in the United States and something that I miss here – the connection with the environment. The book is about making it through senior year of high school in Alaska – it has the driving culture, fishing, falling in love and making bad decisions.

In the book, my mom plays around with strings of her experience. I remember the process of the character turning into someone separate from my mom. I saw it as growing up in a long turn. Being an adult means letting go of certain parts of your identity, to not keep them so ingrained in you, but letting things be hurtful, letting go off traumas.

What was most interesting to me, was to see how the text fits into the rest of mom’s life. The book finishes abruptly, with her getting on the plane, leaving Alaska to get to the university in Idaho. It is a very weird dynamic – the character presumably is my mom and I know the story beyond the pages of the book.

Reading my mom’s words was uncomfortable for a while because writing is so intimate. It is the way that you think on paper. It was weird to see my mom on a page. It was unnatural to see the way she talks, or how it differs. I saw how things changed, how her flow shifted, how her writing improved. It felt like something I should not see. It was bizarre to read something that solid. Everything that I read before was a subject to me, a subject to change. Reading it as a book was different, it was a solid final thing, this was hard for me, but it was good. 

I look at the book in a different light since I moved abroad. The way I perceive everything has changed, that’s why. Now, I recognise the more cultural aspects of it. Before it was a backdrop, now it is a specific backdrop among many backdrops. I value the aspect of nature more because it is something I do not have anymore. The conservativeness of the place sticks out more as well. Being within my previous environment, I did not see it. Now that I am in a different place, I see that this is not just the way it is, but it is very specific to this America, this Alaska kind of culture.

When I am nostalgic, I have in mind an abstract combination of memories of specific experiences and places. The feeling that I would get any day back at home probably happened so many times that it blended into a mere idea of what something was. Reading is like falling asleep into something else. You get to turn off a part of yourself. My subconscious is specifically feeling that emotion when recollecting the memories or aspects of my hometown. The ones that are present in the book. Reading is more of a relief from homesickness than providing any sense of nostalgia.”

Video by Natalia Zalega

Editor’s note: This article is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was written, edited, and fact-checked by students of the journalism course. Some content may have been altered by The Herring’s editors for clarity and style.

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