Cultivating a Family of Readers
I come from a family of readers. My grandfather, a Chinese soldier who served the Imperial Court and escaped from China that was on the verge of falling into Communism, was a voracious reader who enjoyed reading Western literature just as well as Chinese folklore. According to my mother, he wasn’t an educated man but taught himself how to read and write Mandarin when he was young. No doubt he was intelligent, because he later on learned how to read and write in English and Spanish, the latter being the mode the communication between him and my mother, as I would later read in his letters to my mother as a student.
After him came more avid readers in the pack. My grandfather had 18 children in all (2 died during infancy), and all of them are wide readers. Just to pick the ones who influenced me the most are the following below:
Uncle Pinky: The Encyclopedia Maniac
Among my mother’s siblings, my Uncle Pinky was the most voracious of all. Yes, it was weird he had a girl’s name (he was nothing BUT!), but apparently all of the males had names with a “Pin” prefix as my grandfather had wished. Correspondingly, all of women (my mother and aunt) had Chinese names affixed with “Bin”. How and why this is so is already lost to me.
Going back to my Uncle Pinky, he read a lot of materials and knew a lot of trivia. For example, it was to him that I learned that a whale’s mucous was used for perfume. I never believed it till I came across this fact in a book myself, and that this substance is in fact called ambergris. He loved reading the news and was good at history and current events. He had trivia for everything, a walking encyclopedia.
Uncle Pinnen: The Grammar Fanatic
What my Uncle Pinky was to trivia was my Uncle Pinnen to grammar. He loved world events and trivia as well, but he put more emphasis on grammar and spelling. My uncle would quiz me on grammar construction every now and then when I was little and intensified all the more when I was in college. He had a flair for semantics and word play and engaged me and brother in it. I would remember him to sit quietly in the corner of the sofa answering crossword puzzles that he would finish in less than an hour, and these are really large puzzles. He sent me old pocketbooks to read and occasionally wrote to me during college years.
Looking back, he held a lot of influence on me when I was younger and I attribute much of my passion for reading from him. I could have been a journalist were it not for my mother!
My Uncle Pinhoy: The Comic Book Afficionado
I am not much of a comic book fan despite the fact that I read Archie and Beetle Bailey comics as a teen, but I must give due credit to my Uncle Pinhoy for bringing me and my brother into the world of comics.
Actually, my uncle inherited this habit from my lolo who was a great fan of Superman and the Justice League as a kid. I was lucky enough to have read the earliest series of this DC Comics superhero, in mint condition at that! I learned early on that there was a Super Dog and even a Super Monkey through these comics. The cartoons were so fresh then—Superman looked totoy (youthful) in his costume. Everytime he was on a visit, he would let us read his new purchases before bringing it home to the province. I grew up with Beetle Bailey, Blondie and Hagar the Horrible.
Between me and my brother, it was my brother who was influenced to take interest in comic books. In fact, he has a whole stash of comic books in his room! Through him I learned who Captain America, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four were even before they became movie adaptations. I can tell you quite frankly that between the comic books of yesteryears and today, I would prefer the oldies anytime, thank you.
My Mom: The Domestic Diva
If my uncles loved trivia, history and grammar, my mother was crazy on housekeeping, entertainment and curios. Being a Home Economics graduate, she loved reading stuffs about home improvement, gardening and relationships. Never the one to read voluminous books and novels, she preferred materials that were brief and segmented. She hated reading novels because she hated picking up the next chapter from the last one she left off. With magazines and booklets, she learned how to make flowers bloom quickly. She has a yen for UFOs and Hollywood celebrities.
So What Does That Make Me?
Because of all these influences, I read a variety of things. From my early days of Barbara Cartland and Judith Krantz, I’ve now expanded my scope to include religion, autobiography, marketing and business. But for everyday quick fixes, give me a broad newspaper and I will read it from page to page, except a little of sports. I will probably never read E. L. James’ book, but give me any other reading material and I will probably dig myself in it. The fun in reading novels is coming across a new word that you have to consult a dictionary with. That way, I keep alive the challenge my Uncle Pinnen told me and that is never to stop learning, even if it’s just learning a new word each day. You never have to use it, but if you do however, you can be sure it will be a word that will stick with you always.
Not Genes, But Habits
What am I driving at? Actions are not the result of genes but rather developing habits. I certainly did not get the reading frenzy just because I was borne to a family of readers. Anybody can cultivate it, and the younger you start the better it will reap fruits.