Reading books a habit that lasts a lifetime
Retired military technician Pham The Cuong runs a free private library in his house in HCM City and hosts the Nguyen Huy Tuong Booklovers' Club. He says his biggest happiness is passing his passion on to children. Cuong talks to Ngoc Hai
about his love of books.
Inner Sanctum: In the ten years you've been retired you have collected up to 6,000 valuable books. How did you collect such a large amount of books to serve readers?
If you want to read a lot of books, first and foremost you need to have books. I have loved reading since I was young and had collected nearly 1,000 books by the age of 15. In 1982, upon moving to HCM City by a military train, I brought along many valuable books; unfortunately, many of them were lost during that trip.
Among the books I lost are some renowned works of literature such as Song Dong Em Dem (And Quiet Flows the Don), Dat Vo Hoang (Virgin Soil Upturned), Xa Mac Tu Khoa (Far away from Moscow), Hong Lau Mong (Dream of the Red Chamber) and many other Chinese stories. The two bags of books I fortunately preserved are scientific and children's books.
Inner Sanctum: How did you get the money to buy books at such a young age?
I earned money by sewing conical hats in my hometown in Nam Dinh, a place famous for producing them. I used to be very quick at sewing the hems of the hats. By sewing from five to six conical hats per day, I could earn enough money for books.
Inner Sanctum: Many families with lots of books often have trouble finding places for them. How do you solve this problem?
As long as you are a booklover, you must have room for books. Since I re-decorated my house, I had the opportunity to reorganise my reading room into a small library.
Inner Sanctum: Do you think that collecting and reading books is the hobby of wealthy people, as it is not only costly, but also time-consuming?
I am not wealthy, but rich in passion. Without passion, people cannot succeed in anything. Without passion, I cannot keep books as my hobby. I have to take up a part-time job of doing estimations for building projects. However, getting home after work, I immediately return to books. Never have I gone to sleep before 12:30am or woken up after 5:30am; I'm like a living clock. Many of my friends wonder how I could read so much like that, but I just think of it as my habit since childhood.
I read Khong Gia Dinh (the French story called Sans Famille) before I attended primary school. It was during the war and my father sent me back to my hometown. Hearing my fourth-grade sister talking about this book, I was very curious and spent two months reading it. Thanks to that I didn't have to learn reading at grade 1. At primary school, I was taught how to hold books properly and how to read effectively by my teachers.
Inner Sanctum: Why are people lazier now to read books than before?
Because today there are so many other forms of entertainment like internet games, which interest not only children but adults too. Games are even installed in mobile phones so that people can play anywhere anytime. I used to be keen on playing games once, but then found out that it was a waste of time. Of course there are games to sharpen one's concentration or wit, but hardly do they offer new intelligence. To those who long for intellectual development, books are dedicated teachers, and to a bookworm like me, a book is like a faithful lover. It is certain that I will never leave books.
Inner Sanctum: How are your private library and the Nguyen Huy Tuong Booklovers' Club operated?
My library is open two nights a week and on Sunday afternoons during the school-year. In summer, it is open four nights a week, mainly to serve the students. My wife and sometimes my children take turns working as the librarian. Readers don't have to deposit anything. At times I organise trips for children to go out, with free transportation, tour guide, food and drink.
In seeing their children take part in such educational activities, some families offer to pay, but I have never accepted, even up to one third of the amount spent. Trips to museums or parks, where children can learn about nature, history or food, requires the most money. My salary, though not much, is enough to cover those expenses.
The Nguyen Huy Tuong Booklovers' Club, the playground for every booklover, is open on the first Sunday of each month.
Inner Sanctum: Every year, young readers at your library win awards in local story-telling competitions. How do you train them in their reading habit?
Those awards are mainly the results of their intelligence and passion. I often hold talks and discussions on famous landscapes, the environment, seas and islands. The children also write about their favourite topics using images and sound to enliven their stories. They are very excited when renowned writers or border soldiers are invited to talk to them about the sea or islands. — VNS