Bedtime Reading

A still from Greta Gerwig's Little Women (2019)

'Little Women' (2019) Dir. Greta Gerwig


Dear Reader,

Winning the top three positions at year-end exams allowed us to go to the staff room where brand new books would be laid out on a row of tables for us to choose. Ooooh! The luxury of that experience and the sheer happiness of owning my own storybook! One year, I got hold of Little Women (full-colour illustrated abridged version) and Jo’s character has left an indelible impact on me! In later years, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys read in unabridged versions—among other titles—grounded my love for words… all of over six decades.

Justin introduced me to the film adaption of “Little Women” which was on the big screen last year. Its amazing faithfulness to details rekindled childhood memories of my pleasure with books.

When I was in primary 3, I was able to borrow books from the class library. Enid Blyton’s stories were a real attraction and though it was time for bed by 9pm, I would be most reluctant to clamber up to the upper bunk of one of the two sets of double-deckers in the bedroom that I shared with three sisters. My solution was to bring a torch with me and continue reading under the thick blanket!

This scene is in the early 1960s, in the early days of self-government and merger with Malaysia. My class library was not a cupboard of books, but a big clapboard about 4-foot high, 3-foot wide and 8-inch thick, hinged in the middle. When the board is pulled apart, there are four or five mini shelves on each side, with a metal spring stretched across the middle of each shelf. Each shelf would hold a few books and I think the teacher allowed each pupil to borrow a book home.

I am truly thankful for those clapboard libraries and admire the good work of our library system in providing choices for readers, all the more in these unusual times.

Wai Han

(From May 9, 2020)