My Reading Evolution
Brandon reads on average a book and a half a week. You wouldn’t believe how much of a relief it is when he got a Kindle for Christmas the year it first came out. Our shelves were overflowing with books back then. We were taking boxes to our friend’s used bookstore or local library. At one point, I started re-selling them on Amazon.
As for me, as you know, my goal is ALWAYS to read 12 books a year. Some years I did well. Some years I didn’t. So far, this year I’m on a pretty good path. Thanks to some really good books I couldn’t put down. I’m about to add some big volumes of graphic novels to the list this year too as my neighbor loans me his collection of Alan Moore’s work. (That’s the guy who writes V for Vendetta and The Watchmen.)
Still, compared to some of my friends and even to my husband, I’m crap for a reader.
But then, as I was talking to a few coworkers the other day about books, someone said to me, “Wow, you’re so well read.”
Well read? Is she talking about me? Oh, I don’t know about that. I read well, perhaps. But far from well read.
There’s always that list of books you should read before you die or something like that, and I would come up to about 20 out of 100 while my friends would score a lot higher. For example, the recent Best 100 Novels of All Times by Entertainment Weekly, I’ve only read 12. (We’ll discuss this further below.) I also cheated a little as I read so many of Western classics in Thai. They were a series of these classics on paper back and I wanted to read them all. I’m pretty sure it was a bit more of the translation of the Reader’s Digest version of the books because there was always one page of illustration every other chapter so so. Nevertheless, I read Call of the Wild, Moby Dick, Black Beauty, Around the World in 80 Days, Robinson Crusoe, Three Musketeers, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that way.
I was fortunate to have grown up in a household where my parents would buy us as many books as we wanted. The first place I’d run to when we went to the mall would be the bookstore. Anything in the kids section I could reach, I’d very likely go home with at least one.
In first grade, I was introduced to the library at school. Once I discovered that there was a room full of books, I practically lived there. When I was not at dance practice or any other activities, I would be at the library. All the way to 9th grade. My mom agreed to let me hang out at the library until it closes as long as my homework gets done (or mostly done). Even before the librarian trusted me with putting the books away, I was already helping her close up shop almost everyday.
Once I got to be an actual library assistant, I found myself making notes of what I was putting back on the shelves. A special note on what the older girls were reading. (Advanced reading! What a challenge that would be!) I got to read bits and pieces of Daddy-Long-Legs, and Charlotte’s Web (in Thai). Putting a wrong book away yielded another about an expedition to find a Coelacanth and the horrific cover of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which got me flipping through a few pages. (That’s soooo very fucked up.)
During my an archeology phase, I went through the entire small section on Egyptology. Ditto when astronomy got me interested in Greek and Roman mythology. But the nerdiest of all the phases was my encyclopedia phase.
Around 7th grade, my mom said that the Encyclopedia contains everything you ever need to know. If you can finish A through Z–in English–you’d be the smartest person in the world. So, I went to work on that as my lunch break project. I would have an Encyclopedia and a notebook open on the table and a dictionary nearby. A slow process, yes, but I think I got through the first volume before quitting.
My folks turned around and invested in a set of Disney-licensed kid’s Encyclopedia (about 2 dozen books or so), and book sets on science, along with other Disney stories in English. They weren’t cheap, for sure. I remembered my parents debating about it but I promised that I would read everything. And I did. Over a few years.
With all the encyclopedia reading, I never thought to pick up a proper literature in English. Not until it was required of me to do so 20 years ago.
Ah. American high school and their summer reading list. To my surprise and horror. The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises were my first assignment. It was hard enough finding a copy of them in Thailand to begin with. We couldn’t find Sun so I got started on Gatsby (again, with a dictionary nearby).
Talk about a culture shock. Not only the language was flowery (as you know, encyclopedias were kind of dry), there were cultural references and time period about which I had zero knowledge. Thank god my mom was a Robert Redford fan and remembered the movie! Surprisingly, we managed to find a copy of that in Thai video store. That helped quite a bit. But it was still a struggle.
The Sun Also Rises, though, that one I was told to wait until I get states side to get a copy. My host mom took that time to also introduce me to Cliff’s Notes.
That was a beginning of a new adventure in reading, and also the end of reading for pleasure.
When I first came to the U.S., it was like having a learning disability. My English was great but I was missing a lot of context, nuances, history, and cultural references. It wasn’t just culture shock, but it also applied to school work. It took more time to study most of the subjects at school, and even a little more writing reports. (In Thailand, we had a lot of tests and not many reports. Learning to think for yourself was also new.) 2 dictionaries always on hand: Oxford Student one and Thai-English/English-Thai that I would only use if I was really stuck.
So time to read for pleasure was no longer something I could afford. The only non-school work I was reading were magazines and newspapers to better acclimate myself to the new environment and keep up with the world, respectively.
College was pretty much the same. With so much reading I had to do already, I didn’t have the heart to read much more. But I did spend ridiculous amount of time at the Stacks at USC Doheyny Library. It was my happy place. The Stacks are below ground with low ceiling with tight rows of shelves and secret corner tables. Always quiet and smell of old books. (Best place to nap, by the way.)
Oh, the eau du Old Books! I don’t know where it started. I could be my grandmother’s books or my dad’s old dictionary. I just love that smell. And down at the Stacks, among the first volumes of several classics, you can get a lung full of it. This is probably still why I insist on reading analog book instead of digital ones. But I digress.
Now, back to my first English-language book I read for pleasure. It was Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, on a road trip to Texas with my friend Jennifer and her family. I tried to start a non-school book reading habit back then but it didn’t stick. I was already spending a lot of time journaling so reading more of an afterthought.
Until I met Brandon. The man READS. He reads everyday. And this is when I moved the journaling to the internet and picked up a book.
We read different things except for Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. When the latest book Cold Days came out, instead of having Brandon read it first, we decided to read to each other so we can both “read” the book at the same time. That lasted about 4 chapters. LOL.
So what do I read? Just about anything, really. While Brandon is strictly sci-fi, I’m all over the map. I like murder-mystery and thriller best, but I do like me some of the Young Adult (YA) sci-fi series once in a while. If I come off of something dark and heady like Haruki Murakami 1Q84 (What the FUCK was up with that book?!? Seriously.), I’d pick up something light like YA Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
I cried over Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and laughed with Seth Graham-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice, and Zombies. I pored over popular bestsellers like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and total guilty pleasure of Richard Castle’s Nikki Heat series. I don’t have many books that I would re-read but Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is one.
There were books I started and never finished like Emperor of All Maladies, Lord of the Rings, and many business-related books like Seth Godin’s Linchpin or Malcom Gladwell’s Blink. Then there were books that I wanted to rip into pieces and burn in the hottest bonfire known to man after I read it like Ann Rice’s Angel Time (A modern day assassin chosen by an angel to go back in time to save a life sounds like a good premise…until the end of the book when you realized it wasn’t a book you thought it was going to be.), and MANY Dean Koontz’s books. (I fell in love after Watchers and I tried to read others. I hated all of those others.)
But books are books. I will always love them even though I hate some of them. I grasped in horror when the video of this idiot making arts and crafts out of old books hit the internet. There’s a special level of hell for that separate for people who actually burn literature because they were “inappropriate” or “immoral”.
That said, I’m always on the look out for new things to read. I get most of my ideas from EW, I have to say. So far, their editors haven’t steered me wrong yet. Currently, I’m alternating Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. (You can see my reading list on the left hand side on the home page.) I have nothing lined up after Henrietta Lacks but a stack of graphic novels from my neighbor I mentioned earlier. So, please leave your suggestion in the comment.
Out of the 100 books on EW list, I have read…
81. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818) – High school.
67. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) – A recommendation in EW way back in the days. I did like it and still remembered many parts of it, oddly enough.
62. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) – High school. This is also where I stopped killing spiders if I can help it.
59. Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897) – High school.
39. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002) – Another EW recommendation. Not my favorite, but it was intriguing.
37. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926) – High school
33. Art Spiegelman, Maus (1986) – College. This is a part of studying signs and symbols in Communications class. I still have the book and wouldn’t part with it. Brilliant work.
18. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851) – I read this in Thai. Perhaps it’s time to do over…
17. Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2006) – This book is a Dementor realized. The most depressing book I’ve ever read but yet I could NOT put it down. I needed to watch 3 cartoons before I started to feel happy again. Yet, the impact on my emotions is a testament to how good this book is.
12. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929) – High school. I still don’t know what that was all about.
7. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter: The Complete Series (1997-2007) – I actually started on Prisoner of Azkaban on accident. Half way through, I realized I’ve missed the first two books. LOL
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925) – High school. First book in English!