Growing up with a pair of English teachers can be trying, not so much because of the ‘English’ but more the ‘teachers’. My life was full of rules and schedules and times tables (you read right. The timeS tables, as in multiplications!). My dad also taught math.

I remember very clearly that my father, being the gadget freak that he was even then, had recorded a tape with his voice reciting the times tables from one to 12 and he would play it on that chunky boombox of his (top of the line in the 80s, of course) during mealtimes to somehow subliminally program them into our heads (my sister’s and mine). Is it any wonder why I prefer total silence when I eat these days?

That said, one of the most valuable lessons imparted from this somewhat austere upbringing, was the love for reading. To this day, whenever he visited (or at least back home when I was simply two hours’ drive away), my dad would check out my little library and spend whatever days he had with us reading at least a book every three or four days, while cramming in our Star Trek: The Next Generation DVDs as quickly as he can because he did not have a DVD player back in Batu Gajah.

It’s a multitasking (task is not the right word, perhaps multi-entertain is more apt?) skill trained from having one’s telly hours severely limited during one’s childhood. Ask my husband. I’m able to do it too, watch TV and read at the same time. But only Star Trek, oddly.

Anyway, so reading. Need I tell you how marvellously important it is? Even as a writer – or especially so – reading is how I learn words and styles. Without reading, I would be dried out. And I was, for a very long time, ironically when I needed to be professionally filled up, and I wasn’t. Today, because of nap times and quiet times and early bedtimes (for the kids), I am able to refill that well of words and expressions and thoughts and dreams, to my hearts’ content.

Words I learnt from Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (such an elegant read, almost like a 21st century, New York-style Austen, Messud is):

  • tchotchkes: As in, “she abhorred tchotchkes“. 
  • interlocutor: As in, “…and found his interlocutor was young, female, and attractive,…”
  • autodidactic: Having the characteristics of someone who is self-taught, aka, an autodidact (I lost the passage that contained the word).


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