A Conversation with… Hazirah Tahamit on Reading as Challenges in her Life

How did you get into reading?

When I was in Primary 6, a friend of mine, DK Ainil, constantly urged me to read. We were best friends, and according to her we should have the same hobby. I used to hate her for that as it felt like she was trying to impose her hobby on me. One of the things she did to fish for my attention and curiosity was to constantly give me free books to read. I still remember being forced to read a silver covered book, with some sort of greenish and gooey-looking caption ‘Goosebumps’ emblazoned on it. Apparently, as put by Ainil, ‘Goosebumps is the current thing’ at that time. Thus began my love of reading. It didn’t start off well – I had loads of nauseated moments trying to decipher some ‘alien’ words when I first started, but somehow that didn’t stop me from reading. Initially, it was largely because of my fear of ruining my friendship with Ainil, but now, I can argue that I’ve developed my love of reading because of my own efforts.

 

From Goosebumps, where did you progress afterwards?

After seeing that I have progressed quite well with reading, Ainil gave me other R. L. Stine’s books to read including the Fear Street series, the New Fear Street series, the Cheerleader series. I feel like I’ve read everything written by R. L. Stine by the time I’ve graduated Primary 6! Then came the sad parting between me and Ainil as I had to transfer school, thus losing my book-resource. I had to scour my new school’s library for books to read. Sadly though, as my new school was an Islamic based school, English storybooks were scarce. By the end of Secondary 1, I finished reading all the books in the school library – all of which were classics such as Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Despite that, I could not really develop a love of Classics. Perhaps, because of Ainil’s earlier influence, up until now, thriller or crime novels are the top of my list of the books that I love to read. I love how my heart palpitates and races every time I read thrillers. I also love playing guessing games of ‘Whodunit” while reading such books.

As someone who went to a religious school, did you get into Malay literature?

The school did not really provide us with Malay books, apart from those which were part of the syllabus. Thus, I did not really get the chance to read a lot of them. My friends lent me some Malay novels to read but I still prefer reading English books. This is not an attempt to deny Malay literature though. This is merely a statement of preference on my part.

 

How did you tackle learning English Literature when you struggled with enjoying classics?

The horror of learning English Literature! More reading, I guess! And also, the attitude of never giving up and to always think outside the box. It is true that I did not quite enjoy classics and find them a chore to read for English Literature classes. But at least I tried to declare truce with something that I hated.

What I did was, trying to find other relevant, and–ahem!–more easily digested versions of any texts that I was supposed to read. Only after going through all those hassle did I started tackling the texts for my English Literature classes. It is a challenge, especially so as when I first started doing the class in my sixth form. I have just transferred from an Arabic based secondary school. The transition was just a challenge.

Even though I hated classics, I did the unthinkable! I took English Literature as one of the core subjects for my BA degree. Talk about irony! I guess you could say that my actual problem when I first did English Literature was language barrier. Classics tend to use language that aren’t very clear in communicating its point. It was a struggle that I tend to experience. However, my engagement with Literature during my BA degree was rather tolerable. It is quite surprising really to know that I have risen to the challenge to tackle something that I had very little experience in. At some point during my BA, I could say that I enjoyed doing classics, but enjoyment alone is not enough to make me fall in love with it.

 

You’re currently doing your PhD, so you’re reading a lot of academic papers and work as a part of your research. Is that a shift then from a reading habit that started from fiction?

You know the cliche saying about habits? That it is like a comfortable bed; easy to get into but hard to get out of? I am sure you’ve heard it somewhere before. Well, that’s an exact mirror of my current situation.

I do read a lot of non-fictions for my PhD. But sometimes, I try to break away from all of the academic jargons and conundrums by turning to, again, thrillers and crime fictions. It is a reading habit that I find hard to get out of. Reading for pleasure is indeed very different from reading for my academic requirement. I won’t really call it a shift. Although I could argue that I also find reading non-fictions pleasurable at this age. Nonetheless, I still love my thrillers! Nothing could beat them, except, perhaps J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

 

How has Harry Potter impact in your life!

Harry Potter! The Boy Who Lived, indeed! Despite having to conclude a wonderful story ever written in history, Harry Potter never truly dies. I went to the studio tour recently, and was privileged to see a live reenactment of the lessons that Harry conducted and taught for the Dumbledore’s Army in the Room of Requirements by some actors. I was quite surprised as those kids were no more than 8 years old, but their passions in reenacting those scenes were remarkable! I mean they’re just kids. And I first came across Harry Potter about 13 years ago; when I was 12 years old. What I am trying to imply is that J.K. Rowling’s HP legacy will definitely continue on and on.

Harry Potter is a bundle of fantasies, joy, tears, excitement, fear, anger, all packaged into one. It might be a mere tale, but it is a powerful tale that has taught me–and I am sure many others too–the meaning of life in so many unexpected ways.

 

How do you find balancing doing a PhD with reading casually? I ask because we have a lot of people struggling to read due to hectic schedules.

I have to admit that I also have this problem. Consistently! But I always try to slot in a few casual readings in between doing my PhD. For example, before going to bed I’d read a few chapters, or even just one chapter from a book. Or, for instance, whenever I do not receive assignments from my supervisor or waiting for his feedbacks for my previous work, I’d definitely try to squeeze in some casual reading into my schedule. The key is to try and find any available time to do something that you love doing. Believe me, there is always time to do so.

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Hazirah Tahamit is currently doing a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies in Newcastle University

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