On my fifth birthday, my parents took me to a small bookstore and let me choose one book. I knew we could not afford much, so I picked a cheap one. That night, I asked mom to read it for me. However, I realized that only by experiencing the book myself could I dive into the author’s thoughts, so I learned to read on my own.
Nights after nights I got used to putting the letters of the alphabet together and started reading everything within my sight, from small cards to advertisements. On a rare visit, my uncle brought me a box of books, and from that moment books became irresistible. Every night, I feigned sleep, waited for my parents to go to bed, and I fled to my little corner to read.
One summer, I discovered a hidden collection of books in my mom’s closet, which was to become my Christmas present. As soon as mom left for work, I would rush to her room, carefully take out one book and allow myself to drown in it for hours. That collection was biographies of people who remarkably contributed to the modern world. Even before my peers could read fluently, I knew who discovered radium and polonium and who came up with the law of gravity. I began to see the world.
At eight years old, I believed that making a wish one thousand times under one thousand airplanes passing overhead would make a dream come true. I wished for a compass because, in my dream, a compass was a symbol of adventures and knowledge. I did not know if I would ever leave my birthplace, but I felt compelled to see the world. I fulfilled my desire by burying myself under piles of books. During secondary years, my mind was occupied by stories about cultures, people, and landscapes, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Slumdog Millionaire.
At sixteen years old, entering the United States for high school, I brought this reading habit with me. This land stroke me with unexpected experience and never failed to challenge me intellectually and socially. From my daily interactions with people, I raised questions about their odd behaviors and different mindsets. Books had undoubtedly shed light on my wonders. Despite the hazardous weather and busy schedule, walking to a nearby public library became my weekly journey. There, I earned myself a better understanding of American high school life, table manners, and stories that shaped American culture today. Books triggered my curiosity about everything and raised one ultimate questions: “What is culture?” Through listening to people’s stories during my time as a tutor and a leader, I got myself a clearer picture of people and norms. With all that knowledge, I then compared Vietnamese and American traditions, only to see the beauty of diversity.
Learning about diversity brought me to one conclusion: people might be distinguished from each other, from skin color to personal interests, but they are all relatable. Listening attentively to others’ tales, I see their eyes shining and their faces becoming lively. And most importantly, I see myself. Humans are relatable also because I have known a multitude of people sharing this same interest. Instead of reading at a corner of the library, I confidently discuss books with others, getting deeper into the meanings of those written stories.
Throughout my life, I have turned to books in all circumstances, because I know reading gives me both knowledge and a mix of feelings. From different author’s lenses, I at a distance experience war, discrimination, and poverty across the globe, but I also feel love, generosity, and perseverance. Today, I realize that the ultimate value of books is to be a foundation, lifting readers to go beyond limitations. I feel helpless at times when reading, only to be more eager to persist and learn, hoping to give my best to this astounding world someday.