I think most people who know me would describe me as a fairly literary person, but it wasn’t always so. Up until about fourth grade, I couldn’t even read Green Eggs and Ham. I was literally the kid that got pulled out of class to do remedial exercises and learn ABCs, because I was eight and hardly read a word of English. If I was a kid today, I’m sure they would have given me like five learning disabilities.

At any rate, one day in fourth grade I was with my mom at Barnes and Nobles. I couldn’t read, so bookstores were mysterious temples for a faith I was excluded from. For some reason, that day the books arrayed on display incited my covetous desire to read. Left to my own devices, I picked up a book with a pretty cover, and decided that I was going to read it cover to cover. I was tired of not being able to read.

I don’t know how long it took me, but I read that book every day. I’m sure it’s not the best work of literature — it’s out of print and the lowest selling price on is 1 cent — but it opened the world of reading to me. By the next year I was devouring fantasy books by the dozen, in addition to Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck and the rest of the Western literary cannon.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was thinking about this and realized maybe I could mount the same offensive against the Chinese language. After browsing a Chinese website that has lots of book commentaries, I chose a few hopefuls and went to the large bookstore in Xidan. Eventually I chose 《X 的悲剧》 (The Tragedy of X), an American novel of no reputation that was probably translated because: A. It was written a while ago and wouldn’t have too much naughtiness to censor, B. It was written a while ago and it’s out of print, so C. It was cheap to get the rights.

My first choice was to read a Chinese novel, but I couldn’t find the authors recommended to me — imagine browsing a bookstore when the language has no alphabet and you’ll know how frustrating trying to find a book is.

I’m proud to say that not half an hour ago I finished my first-ever Chinese book. It was a mystery, which I figured would ensure that I was motivated to finish it. I’m not sure how much I learned from it, but I’m still pretty happy with myself. I guess tomorrow I may have to go to the bookstore again to find another book, which is one of my favorite activities in the whole world. I actually have some Chinese classics already, but I hear they’re depressing, so ppfffffbbtbttttttt on that.

One thought on “Literacy!

  1. Loved your story, Caitlin. “Fourth-grade child who couldn’t read becomes Chinese literature major.” Pretty neat.

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