the twin sisters: some thoughts on reading and writing

Derby public libraryI was in a developed Western nation with good English library facilities for about six months recently and borrowed many books and literature periodicals. The library system for online access is good and efficient. I could ask for books from the whole county and even beyond in other States. During those months of research I managed to access to many printed resources. Resources of various media such as audio-books, large prints, DVDs, and e-books etc. The only area where I believe needs improvement is the limited resources in foreign languages.

Any serious writer will agree that reading is essential for writing. To write well we need to read well. There is no short-cut. Personally I became an avid reader at the age of perhaps four. When I was eight I was reading thick books in another language. I could not really understand the depth of the literature but I read them anyway. It became a lifelong habit like breathing. Words breathing. I became selective after I learned to differentiate the good ones and the bad ones. Why bother? Someone asked. It matters a lot when we intend to write. Other good writers become our mentors. In a way they are feeding us so that we grow. We cannot have the wrong food and expect a healthy growth. Although by nature and interest I used to like and engage in reading lots of classical detective stories exhausting nearly all the famous names. However I soon realized that I was not going to write them. So I learned to read the genre I specialized in and the ones I knew I had talent in. Reading taste can be acquired with changes of our lifestyle and belief. For example, I became a born again Christian many years ago and my reading taste changed. My writing too. Admittedly my published written work was confined mainly in another language and genre group, I continue to read English books as my main diet and other languages according to their availability ad accessibility.

What can I gain from reading English books? I find the thoughts, concepts and the varieties of creative materials useful and can be used as generic base for writing. I prefer to read the original English versions. Some translated books are able to reflect nearly the exact thoughts and expressions of the original English books but some are quite far off the mark due to the vast differences in culture, tradition, value system and even religious belief between the English author and the non-English translator. Can a non-English author write well in English if English is his or her second language? My personal experience is that unless you think in the English language you cannot write it as well as those writers who think in it. Can thoughts be conditioned to think in a particular language? My answer is yes. So there is still hope if you are really passionate to read and write in a particular language which is not your mother tongue. It might be a big hurdle but if you persist in reading, thinking and writing in that language you may make it. One word of caution: you cannot become English unless you acquire its socio-economic culture, tradition, intrinsic value system and even religious belief. On the other hand, you may still acquire a small group of niche readers even if you are writing English as a second language if they can identify with your contents.

rare species: a librarian

library booksI went to the library today to return the books. I found this little library on the top floor of a shopping mall turned into a multi-purpose one-stop center for all local public services. There are still some shops for commercial purposes. The library is a branch of the main public library. It is conveniently located and those waiting for their legal documents to be processed or renewed can rest their feet and have a quiet reading time in this library. The librarian told me that this year’s membership is free. So I registered and borrowed six books. The maximum is fifteen for two weeks (on the presumption that we should read one book a day) and I may call them if I need extension before expiry. After extending twice I finally went there to return with no intention of borrowing anymore as I just do not seem to have time for their books. But the librarian persuaded me to re-borrow the one book that I did not manage to finish. He also persuaded me to go and look at the shelves and borrow more books than that one book. In the end I lingered longer and found six more books. So I have seven books for two weeks. When I left the library I was happy and not burdened. The bag of books seemed light and easy to bear. The librarian’s gentle persuasion and his holding fast to his love for this profession of books reading somehow affected me. True, every book on the shelves was written by someone who must have loved words. Writing books in general is not a profession that can create monetary wealth overnight. For many writers it does not even make ends meet. The books (usually in two copies only) remain new and untouched on the shelves even if they make it to the library. When I look at the page where they still stamp the dates I realize mine is the first one. How long have those books been waiting on the shelves? How long has the librarian been waiting for someone to come and agreed with him and borrow some, at least more than one perhaps? I am a book lover all my life. I collect books. I have my own personal library. I give away many books too. Perhaps others do the same. Perhaps that is why the public library is not being used that much in this country. I want to think of the bright side about books still being in demand by avid readers and collectors. Writing a book, getting it edited, printed and proof-read, formally published, marketed, sold and finally read by someone is a long and difficult process for many. It is like conceiving a baby, nurturing him or her to full term and finally giving birth. A book is a living being too. It takes a lot of nurturing to become what it is when reader reads it. Imagine a baby having been born in such painstaking way and then be left neglected, for years on a shelf. Unthinkable. So does a book. When I told the librarian I only wanted to re-borrow one book he had that sad look of despair. He had encountered many like me before. But he did not give up. I would consider this a good librarian. A man who knows the true worth of a book. He would go any length to promote and defend a worthy course.

I too long to see the day  an individual who reads one book a day turns up.