On Reading

A couple of weeks ago, Đạo asked me to give him something advanced to read. Without hesitation, I handed him the beautiful illustrated version of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style. Why not giving him an early start? It took me way to long to appreciate the rules of grammar, and I still am struggling.

A couple nights ago, he cracked open the book, read the first page, and stopped. I asked him why did he stopped and he responded, “Reading doesn’t help me in life.” I replied, “Of course, it would. Whether you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or president, you have to read.” Then I paused and thought to myself: that’s not quite true because the President-elect of the United States has not read a book in decades. In fact, he might be illiterate.

Đạo’s response struck me that I had the same thoughts for many years. I didn’t read much in the first twenty years of my life because I didn’t understand what I was reading. The English barrier distracted me; therefore, it made me bored quickly. In high school, I had to take a literature class that required reading. The book was Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. I tried to read, but I could not understand. Fortunately I had a friend, who took the same class, read the chapters and summarized them for me. She did me a favor in the short term, but hurt me in the long term. I am not blaming her. I blamed myself. She was just being a helpful friend and I was just being an idiot.

In college, the only books I would read were technology-related instructions. I gave up on everything else. I took an English course on hypertext and cyberspace. When the professor assigned William Gibson’s Neuromancer, I couldn’t read it. I sat in silent during class discussions. In an intriguing philosophy course on aesthetic experience, I loved the professor’s lecture and the class discussion, but I could not read the textbook. I almost failed literature, history, and biology because I could not read.

I had so much time on my hand when I was young and single, and yet I did not dedicate any of my time to reading. When I started this blog, I also started to read. When I really got into it, I could not stop. Now I always have at least four or five books in my book bag. I wake up early to read before the kids get up. I read at night after the kids fell asleep. I read whenever I get a moment. People stand in line with their phone, me with my book. It has become my obsession.

It took me more than twenty years to figure out the value of reading because I simply didn’t enjoy what I read. I never liked fiction unless the content had something erotic. I prefer non-fiction because if I am going to invest time into reading I might as well learn something. My topics revolve around technology, typography, grammar, and music. I occasionally branch out to politics, biography, or whatever subjects pique my curiosity.

From my personal experience, I can tell the kids why they should read, but they need to discover it themselves. I will always remind them to read, but I hope they will find the joy in reading sooner rather than later.

Bonjour Vietnam