On Being A First Generation Reader + English Major

I grew up without a bookshelf. When I got my first shelf back in primary school, they were for storing school books. Likewise, the shelves at home were filled with arch-files and knick-knacks rather than book-books (you got me, Ikea).

When my tutorial class ended earlier today, a friend was going over how much he hated a certain classical text we’re going to read next week. Apparently, he’d been force-fed said novel when he was a child and being coerced into doing something, especially at a tender age, almost definitely results in a traumatic relationship with said object. Another friend replied with how another classical text involving islands (one of our introductory modules deals with islands and travel) was more enjoyable… and I watched them delve into a short discussion about books. I felt somewhat isolated then, as I’ve felt quite a few times before, with my peasant’s knowledge of books. I’ve seen them bringing in old, yellowed copies of Shakespeare and other classical texts to lectures and while I do enjoy my books new, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel as if they hold ancient secrets in their palms; secrets that I’m not privy to.

My parents are both engineers by training and by trade and newspapers pretty much make up the bulk of their readings (when I say bulk, I mean they take it very seriously). It’s pretty adorable when they get slightly pissed if we forget to get the papers while they’re on weekend vacations. That said, they’ve pretty much come to terms with my choice of major in university and my father has surprised me with his support of my unconventional decision – he was concerned when I lamented that my lack of knowledge in religion was hampering my understanding of certain medieval texts and gently suggested that I look for a bible online. He even checked on me later to make sure I had found it. All these coming from the most skeptical man I know.

My parents and I have had numerous communication problems since I was in kindergarten (really not lying). I guess we’re really wildly different that way. I confess that I’ve wished that my parents were readers and that I was born into a house with walls lined with rows upon rows of books. However, if it were that way, I really wouldn’t be who I am today. Sure, I don’t share their interests and neither do they indulge in mine, but this has helped me navigate an ocean fraught with currents swirling in different directions. I go to each class open minded, free of prejudices that could’ve been someone else’s. I am building my own mental library and real library everyday. Sure, it takes a lot more effort when it comes to gathering opinions and references, but I have the complete freedom to discover the great big world of books. Plus, nobody tried to shove intellectual novels down my throat when I was five.

Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee I won’t do the same.

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