Reading

Today at lunch, I talked with a colleague about reading. They asked me how many books I’ve read so far and whether I know everything now. I thought about it and replied that I’ve read around 1,000 books (I keep a record of my reading). For someone who doesn’t like reading, this might seem like a lot, but for avid readers, it’s quite average. I’ve met people who have read extensively, possessing vast knowledge that leaves me in awe.

The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know
As for knowing everything? Understanding everything?

I feel quite the opposite. The more I read, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I used to think people who said this were being modest, but it’s true. The more you read, the more you become aware of your own narrowness and superficiality. For example, after reading “Journey to the West,” I feel that no matter how hard I try, I could never write such a work in my lifetime.

Thus, Socrates exclaimed:

“I know that I know nothing.”

Socrates

Life is finite, but knowledge is infinite. Should we stop learning and reading because of this? On the contrary, realizing our limitations and the vastness of knowledge should drive us to seek more. If you could become all-knowing in just a few years, how boring would that be? It is precisely because perfection and omniscience are unattainable that countless scholars throughout history have spent their lives pursuing them.

I remember preparing for my graduate exams when my mentor said something that left a deep impression. During mock exams, I always aimed for perfection, trying to answer every question. When I couldn’t, I felt ashamed. My mentor said, “Just answer what you can within your abilities. If you don’t know, simply say you don’t know. If you knew everything, why pursue a graduate degree?”

“Don’t fear endless truth; each inch forward brings joy.”

Hu Shi

Elementary School Reading Experience and Motivation

Thinking back to my early reading experiences, I remember loving Zheng Yuanjie’s novels in elementary school, like “Pi Pilu’s Mobilization,” and Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “Around the World in Eighty Days,” as well as “Andersen’s Fairy Tales” and “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” I was so obsessed with Zheng Yuanjie’s books that I would read them as soon as I got home from school, even taking them to the bathroom (laughs). I still remember “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” had a green cover, and it took me a long time to finish it.

My sister once asked how to cultivate a child’s interest in reading. I thought about why I have a natural love for reading and words. The turning point was in elementary school when teachers required us to copy good phrases and sentences. I did it earnestly and was often praised by teachers, receiving positive feedback, which motivated me to read more books to find good phrases. Over time, I fell in love with reading itself. Initially, it was to gain teachers’ praise, but I inadvertently developed a love for words.

The Unique Aspects of Reading

Despite the plethora of short videos, animations, pictures, and movies today, I still believe that text has an irreplaceable beauty. Its melody, rhythm, nuances, and indescribable emotions have a profound and lasting impact, which is one reason I prefer reading over watching movies. Great works allow me to imagine the scenes and characters’ subtle emotions from countless perspectives, something difficult to achieve in films. Thus, when I read a book I love, I rarely watch its movie adaptation, fearing it might ruin the image I have in my mind. For instance, the protagonists I imagine shouldn’t look a certain way, or a scene shouldn’t unfold like that. Since everyone’s interpretation is different, text gives ample room for imagination, which is fascinating.

Middle and High School Reading

In middle school, I remember loving historical and cultural books like “China’s Five Thousand Years” and the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. My elementary school didn’t have a library, so seeing the middle school library full of books was astonishing. Though I didn’t read many books until I graduated, “Water Margin” and “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” gradually opened up my reading world. I was no longer limited to fairy tales and sci-fi novels, and I saw a broader world. During this process, I slowly realized my deep love for words. Anything related to words fascinated me, and I would read with great interest. In middle school, I even read Chinese and English dictionaries (those mini ones, which I would occasionally take out to look at).

In high school, constrained by the pressure of the college entrance exam, I couldn’t immerse myself in reading completely. I remember reading classics during evening self-study sessions, and once, a teacher saw me. She didn’t scold me but said, “The book is good, but you should focus on preparing for the college entrance exam now.” After that, I rarely read extracurricular books but bought periodicals like “Reader” and “Philosophical Thinking” to supplement materials for the exam essay, though it was to satisfy my reading needs (laughs). Later in my senior year, I had a new Chinese teacher who subtly influenced me. The teacher loved reading, was humble and tolerant, fitting my ideal scholar’s temperament—gentle and elegant. Since then, I aspired to read more books, hoping to become eloquent and knowledgeable like my teacher (though I haven’t reached that level yet, it remains my benchmark and goal).

University Reading

I remember the year of the 2013 college entrance exam. I received the university admission notice, which included a message from the university president, Ms. Wang, encouraging us to read at least dozens of “useless” books outside our major during our college years.

University life offered me unlimited time and opportunities for reading, and I cherished that period. Those four years were my most passionate reading period. I spent almost every day in the library, engrossed in “useless” books, almost staying until the library closed each night.

I particularly enjoyed the closing music of the library, even looking forward to it. Every night, leaving the library and walking past rows of small trees under the Bo Da building, a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction often filled my heart. That was perhaps the happiest time of my life.

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