Friday essay: Alice Pung — how reading changed my life

“There was a tree,” my father told me when I was a teenager, “and this tree was where Pol Pot’s army, the Khmer Rouge, killed babies and toddlers. They would grab the infant by their ankles and swing them against the trunk and smash them again and again until they were dead.” …

This fucking reading, I thought, because this is how I thought back then, punctuated by profanity, because this is how I wrote back then in diaries I made at school of folded paper stapled together with colourful cardboard covers that I’d then take home and fill in with pages and pages of familial injustice. Sometimes the pen dug in so aggressively underlining a word of rage that I’d make a cut through the paper five pages deep. And this is how the kids talked at school, and also some of their parents who picked them up from school. But then I also realised, reading’s the only fucking good thing I have going for me.

It showed me parents who were not only reasonable, but indulgent. They were meant to be friends with their kids. They were meant to foster their creativity and enterprise. They hosted parties and baked cupcakes and laughed when their children messed up the house, and sat them down and explained things to them carefully with great verbal displays of affection. But only if the kids were like Kristy or Stacey or Dawn in the Baby-Sitters Club.

By Alice Pung, University of Melbourne

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