Sunday, April 24, 2011
The Making of a Bookworm
I became a bookworm because my brother needed a break from his annoying little sister.
I was 9 and he was 18, home from college, jet-lagged and worn out by playing with me. Eventually he handed me a book so he could have some peace and quiet. So of course I pestered him incessantly about the meaning of the words I didn't understand. (To his credit, he remained unfailingly patient.) After a couple of pages, however, I was so caught up I just skipped ahead. There was a story to be discovered, what were a few unknown words?
Peace and quiet for him, a lifelong love of fiction for me.
I need to back up and tell you that my siblings and I were born into a household of reading materials: Chinese classic texts and literature, foreign stories translated into Chinese, issues of National Geographic, a set of encyclopedia. I read mostly Chinese books when I was in grade school. In English, I read captions for National Geographic photographs, jokes from Readers' Digests, and comics from the English daily newspaper. My vocabulary was limited. (And often skewed by my misunderstanding of lyrics in American pop songs.)
Turned out my brothers had a whole collection of Enid Blyton books: on boarding schools, adventures, mysteries, fairies and gnomes and elves. I spent the next years devouring all of them, multiple times. I enjoyed the Famous Five adventures and boarding school stories. I even wrote a story, when I was about 13, that took place in a boarding school in England, with a protagonist named Bronwyn or Beatrice or something else with a strong British flavor. Yes, my characters had midnight feasts and drank ginger beer and routinely turned as red as beetroot. I still remember characters from Mallory Towers and St. Clare's: Darrell and Felicity Rivers, Pat and Isabel, Alicia, Mary Lou, a perfect head-girl named Rita, a teacher named Nosy Parker, and a new girl who was unjustly sent to Coventry. I longed to be allowed to wander around an island with my cousins and solve mysteries, and craved bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of milo and bread with kaya.
Despite all the criticisms of Enid Blyton's work, I am enormously grateful that she chose to write. These books opened my eyes to lives in foreign places and unfamiliar customs, made me a fluent reader, and laid the foundation for a habit of reading.
What are the first books that hooked you?
Fellow readers who grew up with Enid: which were your favorite books? What are some phrases you remember from her books, besides "red as beetroot?"Did you want to be one or another of her characters?