The First Book I Read

Yesterday, 23 April 2015, was World Book Day. I also recently read an article in the May edition of ELLE about a writer’s first book – The Shining. It inspired him so much that he became a writer himself. I used to want to be a writer! But I figured just because I won’t get paid for writing doesn’t mean I still can’t enjoy writing.

Anyway, I want to share my first experience reading. Perhaps no one can remember for sure what their first book was. Most likely it was a spelling book with squeaky buttons on it. But I think more people would remember reading their first novel, or collection of short stories.

The first book I remember reading (in Vietnamese) is “Heart” by Edmondo de Amicis. The book is a collection of diary entries by Enrico, a 9-year-old boy who is growing up and learning. As a young reader, I related to Enrico’s stories and feelings, and found solace in his words. The stories are filled with love and kindness, as expected from a children’s novel that tries to reach out to its young readers as a moral compass. I don’t remember all the stories in “Heart”, but there are two that have stuck with me throughout my life.

“Heart” by Edmondo de Amicis in Vietnamese

Both of them concern the relationship between mother and son. In one entry, Enrico pastes a letter that his father wrote to him regarding a time when he accidentally said something rude to his mother. In the letter, his father instead of chastising Enrico for impolite, writes to him about his mother’s love for him. The letter was an ode to mother love and the irreplaceable role that mothers play in their children’s life. At the end of the letter, Enrico’s father urges him to apologize to his mother, because even though she understands that he didn’t mean to be impolite, it is important that he lets her know how much he cares for her and that he understands his mistake.

In another entry, Enrico observes a particularly ignorant classmate who doesn’t try hard in school and fails. When his mother comes to school to ask the teacher not to expel her son, Enrico notices the sadness and tiredness in his mother’s eyes, and reflects on the mother’s care and love for her son, even if he disappoints her greatly.

Both these stories had deep impact on my relationship with my mother. Amicis’s morals aligned closely with my cultural values, placing family at the centre of society and human development. Whereas this book served a moral bible for me when I was growing up, now it is a deep reflection of cultural tradition and how it affects a child’s growth. Carrying conservative role models, “Heart” no doubt is a very prominent educational book for my childhood.

Politics aside, I think with “Heart”, I found an early liking for books because I was able to go beyond comprehending words and being able to feel and appreciate writing. Just like how Enrico’s diaries made me feel greatly about family values, some great books I read later in life inspired me to think abstractly and above my own experiences. They have challenged me to imagine and construct ideas and emotions that I could not directly access in real life. Books also create complexities in human morality and thought, weaving imagery that allow us to think and feel.