berthahenson

A reading life

In News Reports, Reading on June 16, 2012 at 12:41 am

I so identified with Richard Lim’s column in Life! today about his introduction to humanist books. Actually, I identified with his friend, Kenny, who retired early because he wanted time to read. I am not retired but I do have plenty of free time which I spend reading, reading, reading. I can’t think how anyone can live life without reading something. Errm, preferably a proper book and not just Facebook.

It was my late grandmother who introduced me to books. It was Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven. You know the trajectory from there…you move on to Famous Five, Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. On her death bed, she gave me $50 to buy books, My parents rushed this 12 year old to Katong Shopping Centre to make sure I fulfilled her last wish. By then, I had graduated to Agatha Christie. I hadn’t finished Five Little Pigs when she died. It was my habit to always relate to her the stories in the books I’ve read.

The trajectory continued. I saw my Sec 1 classmate engrossed in a book and asked her what it was. A Mills & Boon. That was it then! I borrowed from her stash (she had plenty) and moved round second hand book stores for them. I kept them hidden from my mother, who didn’t like those sexy pictures on the cover and probably thought it was porn.

Book reading took a break in my university days. I stayed in a hostel…and where got time? with tutorials and games and plays and exams to mug up for. That, I know now, is an excuse. No one should give up reading – it keeps you informed, entertained and raises your writing and creative abilities.

I got back to books with a vengeance a few years after I started work. And started scaling up when I had my own place. Finally, I could have my own library. My teenaged books are at my mother’s place, and the rest of the 1,000 or so are jostling with each other for space on custom-made shelves. I arrange them in alphabetical order and in genres. Once, my part-time maid decided to shelve them according to size. I freaked out.

People ask me if I speed read. I am a certified speed reader, but employ the technique only professionally. It was useful when newsmakers threw speeches, statements and bulky press kits at the last minute, expecting journalists to digest them in five minutes before taking questions…Good trick, I thought.

People ask me when I find the time to read, especially when there are daily newspapers and weekly periodicals that I have to consume professionally as well. My ex-colleagues used to think that I only work all the time… Well, I make what time I can. There’s always a book in my bag. A few books by the bedside, in the loo, in my ex-office. I read while eating, watching TV, before I sleep, waiting for a ride, when I drying off by the pool. There’s always time to read.

People also ask me to write book reviews. In my whole career, I’ve only done a handful. And only for those books by authors I know inside-out. That is, I had read the author’s whole collection. I part admire and part resent book reviewers, wondering if they really “know” their stuff when they write about them. I also part-admire and part-resent film reviewers, who review films based on books which I don’t think they’ve read. I once interviewed a Canadian author who was in Singapore and had four books out already. I knew more about her books than she did! During the interview, she said: You must be a news reporter, not a reviewer. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or not, until she said she was a news journalist too and could smell a news person a mile away.  Actually, maybe I should NOT be pleased.

This entry is a digression from the other content on my blog I know. I’m sorry. But I do so love writing about reading…So I think I will start a new tag on this blog on Reading. You can read or don’t read.

Never mind.

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  1. Bertha, nice post. Reading is something that should never be put off for the reasons you listed. The day we stop reading, the day we die. I am like you in the sense i always have a book within easy reach, and if there isn’t, i feel uneasy. Whenever i travel, i take with me 3-4 books because i can read through a long-haul flight. There are so many things vying for our attention and time nowadays but none returns the same value to us like reading does. I know many people who love to read, and many who enjoy writing. I am both. I am an aspiring writer, so one day i hope you’ll read my books too.

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