My first self-identified hobby since I was conscious is reading.
Naturally I didn’t really like it in the beginning, but what I realized is that I wasn’t striving to reap the benefits of reading, or get its end results. I simply made a habit out of it, and non-deliberately I lost myself in the very flow of reading. Initially it was just study-ish books like Peter and Jane to Enid Blyton’s works, Noddy, then Aesop Fables and Grimm Brothers (I belong to the more messed up group of kids that never really watched Disney in my childhood), along with random assortment of fairy tales like Goldilocks and The Three Bears. My favorite was Wind in the Willows, which I actually only picked up somewhere in my teens.
Non-fiction began relatively early for me. By the age of six I might have actually finished an introductory book on the solar system, which cultivated a small by persistent interest in astronomy and physics, despite my lack of any apparent talent for them as shown in my later years. I even carried out some simple experiments with magnets and light when I was a little older, with a couple of “inventions” (I recall a combination of mirrors and magnifying glass that was meant to fire “Solar Beams” with unsatisfying results, if any). More alarmingly (which is what I felt now), I was actually looking for answers for existential problems. I started wondering about how will the earth end, how will the human race end, and how will the universe end. My deep interest in the physical sciences (along with, ironically enough, bits of metaphysics) developed as I devoured various encyclopedias for children and teens, but alas I doubt they developed well into school. In a more Mark Twain-ish way of saying, school interfered badly with my education. My aspirations in the physical sciences dissolved in the vortex of uninspiring formulas and distress. I was only educated enough to doubt the narrative of creationism.
Oh yeah, I did pick up the overly accessible Bible in my childhood. It was sure disturbing as hell to make out the meaning, especially about unnaturally long life-spans, incest, sex, sacrifice, sin, The Great Flood, Tower of Babel, and trying to reconcile them with God’s word. Discovering inequality and famine was less devastating in retrospect but I digress.
My Chinese readings were more sophisticated in comparison. I actually read Chinese counterparts of fairy tales, encyclopedias, and biographies of scientists, leaders, and artists (they were very accessible for me as my father worked in China and they were dirt cheap). I am proud to say I actually picked up wuxia novels by Louis Cha by the age of ten (my very first was Legend of the Condor Heroes), and could understand them relatively well as I read more, which I suspect is the prime reason for why my grasp of the Chinese language was ahead of anyone I know, bar academics and a handful of teachers. To this day, I still think of Louis Cha as one of the finest novelists in the world. Unknowingly, I also became quite well read in Sinology or Chinese Studies on my own, with few peers that shared my interest. Again, faded passions, although I like to think that I can still converse about it if prompted.
My encounter with Harry Potter was late. He didn’t grow up with me. I actually started only when the last book was published due to my outright stubbornness to conform to schoolkid norms and insisted that it could’t have been better than the wuxia I was reading. That is still my opinion to this day, but I did end up as a hopelessly enthusiastic Harry Potter fan in high school. The book along with various video games’ scripts saved my English. I remember countless hours spent rereading them from beginning to end, a habit that never transferred to my current readings.
There was a point where I simply stopped reading books and read only short articles on digital feeds (it was either the advent of my own laptop or smartphone).
Nowadays my readings mainly consist of psychology, self-help, future studies, and some fiction like the Assassin’s Creed series and Dan Brown’s works. As I glanced through my Goodreads shelves, I have this hopeless feeling that I will never get to finish reading, as the wealth of knowledge our species made is simply impossible to even glance through. My purpose of reading have shifted from being lost in the worlds and lives of others, to reading for the sake of reading due to studying habits and a ailment that plagues my generation – impatience. I now habitually check the time and page count to track my progress, so that I know when to put it down and check my Goodreads list.
Currently, I am trying to move back to the habit of wu wei, of non-deliberation again. So that I can fully be lost in the worlds and forget about the page number and time. It is time to read like a kid again, where you dive in without thinking much of surfacing again. Perhaps the notion of power reading ought to be rethought.