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Books: Part 1 What’s not to like?

Blog 26 Jan 2018

The Passionate Palate: Now for something under covers…         

My parents read to us when we were little. We would all squeeze onto the couch and listen to my father and my mother read delightful stories. In the afternoons, we would be sent off for naps afterward. If story time occurred in the evenings, we would be in our pyjamas and ready for bed at the end of the reading. These interludes with books and the family were always a precious time of the day. I loved the sound of words, the rhymes, and learning to spell.

I believe these story sessions and attending nursery school at Saint Paul’s Catholic Convent, when three years old, in Saigon are the reasons I learned to read so young. The stories my parents read to us were written in English. At school, I had to learn to read and write in French. Fortunately, my parents could help me at home.

I remember the first time my mother and I were driven to the school in our chauffered car. The grounds were completely surrounded by whitewashed walls rising very high over our heads. Now I can estimate the enclosing walls were about 10 feet high. There was an austere black iron gate that was opened by a nun in a full white habit including coif. After showing us to the classroom where my education would commence, my mother left. There were no other children from my compound in the school. I was truly on my own. After the first few days of observing how things were run, I realized that I had better learn to read and write quickly or be punished. This I avoided in the same way a rabbit avoids a fox—by paying careful attention.

The punishments meted out were nothing to laugh at: small children being humiliated and beaten with a ruler or pointer. Very sad and terrifying. I reported this to my parents, but there was nothing they could do. I believe they did not know the parents of the children. Even if they did and they told the families, I never saw any change in the behaviour of the teacher.

In spite of this, I learned a great deal on the right side of the ruler! I never lost my zeal for reading and writing but also gained an appreciation of language in a broader sense. The French I learned was a great boon to being able to talk to some of the help we had and my father’s colleagues who often spoke French. This is what probably kindled a desire to learn other languages, especially when we were in various countries where English was not the language of the majority.

I’ve been an avid reader all my life. Granted, for years I read just about anything. I was always eclectic and somewhat indiscriminate. Now, I feel there is less time to read what I discover to be largely uninteresting to me, poorly written, too long and repetitive (although reading excellent long works is wonderful) or too vulgar or violent. On the other hand, I wouldn’t characterize myself as an excellent reader: one who reads deeply and carefully all the time, finding meaning in seemingly innocuous passages and so on. I tend to do this more when reading for book clubs but not as much as I should when reading just for my own pleasure. Unless the book is great, that is.

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