“That Streak of Sunlight on the Books” by Tammy Ho
I once joined an English writing course because my English writing could not be any worse. If there is any way I can make it better, I would go for it. A way to improve writing, according to my writing adviser, is to read and then she recommended Fifty Great Essays as a starting point for reading. Flipping through the first few pages, I realized that reading probably is a good way to learn how the great writers arrange their thoughts and make a cohesive piece. This reminds me of the experience of my Chinese composition course at secondary school.
The girl sitting in front of me in the class was very bright. She often came up with outstanding performances in competitions in Chinese composition, which always reminded me how dumb I was. When asked about the magic of writing, she said she read to broaden her horizons and often got ideas from reading. Once in our class in Chinese writing, the tutor did not assign us a specific topic as he usually did, but left the choice to us: we could write about anything we would like. I was not surprised that her piece was finally chosen as the best one and posted as a sample the following week. I can hardly remember what she actually wrote but I recall exactly that the essay was titled “The Circle of Life”. I was impressed by that I-could-never-think-of-that topic. As a teenager, the best I could think of was “A Nice Spring Day Out”. My memory of her ideas in that essay are vague because they were so sophisticated that my shallow brain was not able to handle them. One memory was that she wrote about a rainy autumn day as she leaned on the window sill, gazing at the rain dropping and absorbing, and in contemplation of life. At that age, my ‘contemplation’ of a day in autumn was that I had to wait ten months for my next skirt-and-ice-cream day.
When an English writing brushing-up course is ahead of me, a similar situation comes. My essays will end up a pile of lame words other than well-organized sophisticated ideas. The other day when I was going through Fifty Great Essays, the bright girl’s words came to my mind: ‘I read for learning, thinking and writing’. I, on the contrary, would read for fun, if I did read, and would not care about what I could learn from reading. This way, perhaps, I read for nothing.
Liu Yuwei is a PhD student at the Department of English Language and Literature and a moderator of Agora. [Click here to read all entries by Yuwei.]