The Big Read Meet turns two

Cutting the cake at The Big Read Meet's second anniversary are (L-R): Madam Tina Wah, Mr George Tan, Straits Times senior writer Cheong Suk-Wai, Mr Richard Sng and Ms Lee Mei Chuen.
Cutting the cake at The Big Read Meet's second anniversary are (L-R): Madam Tina Wah, Mr George Tan, Straits Times senior writer Cheong Suk-Wai, Mr Richard Sng and Ms Lee Mei Chuen.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Senior writer Cheong Suk-Wai (centre) with members of the Big Read Meet.
Senior writer Cheong Suk-Wai (centre) with members of the Big Read Meet.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Reader Tina Wah has been a regular at The Big Read Meet since 2013, but she has seldom spoken up at this non-fiction book club, which The Straits Times and the National Library Board (NLB) run every month.

That changed on Wednesday evening when Madam Wah poured her heart out about her lifelong struggle to clinch a degree.

That was after her fellow readers at the Meet pondered how far they were willing to go, and how much they were willing to forgo, for their dreams. These questions sprung from the book of the month, Words Without Music, the autobiography of prolific American composer Philip Glass. In it, Glass wrote about how he drove taxis, fixed pipes and installed toilets for almost 20 years to survive while he pursued his dream of being the world's greatest composer.

Madam Wah, 61, told her fellow readers how her teachers "wrote her off" early on. At first, she recalled, she believed them and tried to be content with life as a wife and mother. "But somehow," she recalled, "I still wanted so much to have a degree."

She then shared how her son Jonathan Oh, 36, spurred her on to fulfil her dream. "He would sit by my side the way I used to sit with him when he was a young boy doing his homework.

"With his help, at age 50, I graduated - with double degrees in finance and human resource management", she said, to resounding applause from her fellow readers.

Thirty-five readers then joined me in cutting a 3kg cake to celebrate the second anniversary of the Meet, which I moderate every month, and which kicked off on July 17 2013 with 40 readers. It now has an average of 55 readers per session.

As a gauge of its impact nationwide, Mr Ian Yap, 42, the NLB's deputy director of content and services for public library services, says: "The Big Read Meet is one of the more popular book clubs that NLB hosts, focusing on contemporary non-fiction titles. The sessions are well-attended and this helps in our efforts to build a reading nation."

Meet regular George Tan, 67, a past president of high IQ club Mensa Singapore, says: "By nature, I'm a VIP or Very Irritating Person. But here at The Big Read Meet, I'm treated like a Very Important Person."