Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A thirst for books

A week ago in Columbus, I arrived early enough for the talk by author Susan Orlean that I had time to read several pages of her new book about Rin Tin Tin and to converse with a young Chinese woman who sat next to me. This being a literary occasion, our conversation naturally turned to books.

Leanne mentioned, as a way of explaining her intense interest in books, that for most of her years of education in China, her schools had no libraries. Children, in fact, were not encouraged to read anything but their textbooks, which they were required to memorize. I asked her if she could still recite her textbooks, and she said she could.

She had textbooks for geography, politics and history, among other subjects. Instruction in politics began in the first grade and continued throughout her years of schooling in China, she said.

Now she seemed to be trying to make up for lost time. She showed me a long list of books on her cell phone that she wants to read. Among them I recall seeing Moby-Dick. She said she had read most of Susan Orlean's books, and she carried a copy of The Orchid Thief she intended to ask Orlean to sign.

Depriving children of books does not seem like a good way to encourage them to read, but it seemed to work that way with Leanne.

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