Every year, when the snow thaws and warmer weather heralds the arrival of spring, I begin a summer reading list. This year, war raged in Ukraine and the pandemic remained a concern as I reached for pen and paper. Not much really. Hardly any of the titles I researched ignited my interest. For months I battled this bookish ennui until early August, when I read a delightful interview on how to read one's way through Paris with Leila Slimani, winner of France's prestigious Goncourt Prize.

"Which writer," she was asked by the New York Times reporter, "is everyone talking about?" "Annie Ernaux!" she exclaimed. I immediately recalled the translations I read as a young adult living in New York City. These were used paperbacks by the likes of Marguerite Duras and Jose Saramago that fed my curiosity and transported me to unfamiliar worlds made intimately familiar.

With this in mind, I embraced Slimani's enthusiasm and decided to read Ernaux's work, published by Seven Stories Press and translated from French by Alison L. Strayer, Anna Moschovakis and Tanya Leslie. But where to begin? Ernaux has written about 20 books, mostly on her personal experiences which span more than half a lifetime.

It seemed prudent to start at the beginning. This would be with "The Years," a rather intimidating, experimental book, thick with memories and consumed with capturing the minutia of the past, starting in 1941, the year after Ernaux's birth. It is also one of her longer titles. But I was more drawn to "The Possession," which was all of about 62 pages and promised "reckless honesty" on a cover featuring Ernaux's unaffected face through a filmic filter. (Quite a few of her books have such covers.)

The first line of "The Possession," a story about an older woman's obsession with a man from a passionate six-year relationship, grabbed me: "I have always wanted to write as if I would be gone when the book was published. To write as if I were about to die." I read the entire book in one sitting.

As I delved into her other books, I noted that Ernaux is best read not necessarily chronologically but rather extemporaneously, without too much preparation. This is because she writes like someone who discovers old diaries and takes a scalpel to the formation of unbounded memory. You can't help but follow Ernaux's archaeological lead.

Next, to understand her past, which percolates in "The Possession," I read "A Girl's Story," about a young girl's fruitless brush with sexual desire and its ensuing psychological and physical toll. It remains one of my favorite books with its unapologetic feminist edge. Then I read "A Woman's Story" on Ernaux's mother, my interest fueled by Ernaux's arresting portrayal of her mother in "A Girl's Story."

Then I finally pulled "The Years" off my bookshelf again. It turned out to be the perfect segue from which I could re-enter that social milieu, rife with religiosity, classism and sexism, that clearly informed two of Ernaux's other books — "A Frozen Woman" about stifling domesticity, and the still-timely "Happening," on a young woman's harrowing search for an abortion when it was illegal in France.

This fall, my interest in discovering books reignited, it came as no surprise to me when Ernaux won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her inspiring work — expansive and incisively confidential — speaks to the universal as it parses individual truth.

Angela Ajayi is a Nigerian-Ukrainian writer and critic living in Minneapolis.