Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Essay: "How Should One Read a Book?" Virginia Woolf.

10-second review: No one can tell you how to read a book. With that in mind, Woolf makes some suggestions. She sees reading books in two parts: the first is to receive impressions with the utmost understanding. The second part is to compare books.


“Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices.”

“But we tire of rubbish-reading in the long run. We tire of searching for what is needed to complete the half-truth….”

“The poet is always our contemporary.”

“…we learn through feeling….”

“Are there not some pursuits that we practice because they are good in themselves…?”

And this final idea, one often quoted: “I have sometimes dreamt…that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’ ”

Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.

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