Tuesday, August 7, 2012


This is PART 2 - the continuation of an article written by Virginia Woolf titled "How Should One Read a Book?" found in The Parents Review magazine. Karen Andreola the editor, says she has slightly abridged the original article. Part 1 can be found http://www.thisweekwiththekids.blogspot.co.nz/2012/07/why-do-we-need-to-read-week-92-quote-92.html
"But we tire of rubbish-reading in the long run. .... These writers had not the artist's power of mastering and eliminating;.... they have disfigured the story that might have been so shapely. Facts are all that they can offer us, and facts are a very inferior form of fiction. Thus the desire grows upon us to have done with half-statements and approximations; to cease from searching out the minute shades of human character, to enjoy the greater abstractness, the purer type of fiction.

... if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book by another ... the first process, to receive impressions with the utmost understanding, is only half the process of reading;...we must pass judgement on these multitudinous impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard and lasting. But not directly. Wait for the dust of reading to settle; for the conflict and the questioning to die down; walk, talk, pull the dead petals from the rose, or fall asleep. Then suddenly without our willing it ... the book will return, but differently. It will float to the top of the mind as a whole. And the book as a whole is different from the book received currently in separate phases. Details now fit themselves into their places. ... 
Now then we can compare book with book ... But this act of comparison means that our attitude has changed; we are no longer the friends of the writer, but his judges.
... Let us then be severe on our judgements; let us compare each book with the greatest of its kind. There they hang in the mind the shapes of the books we have read, solidified by the judgments we have passed on them ... Compare the novels with these - even the latest and least of the novels has a right to be judged with the best. ...
It would be foolish, then to pretend that the second part of reading, to judge, to compare, is as simple as the first - to open the mind wide to the fast flocking of innumerable impressions. To continue reading without the book before you, to hold one shadow-shape against another, to have read widely enough and with enough understanding to make such comparisons alive and illuminating - that is difficult; it is still more difficult to press further and say, "Not only is the book of this sort, but it is of this value; here it fails; here it succeeds; this is bad; that is good."
... To carry out this part of a reader's duty needs such imagination, insight, and learning that it is hard to conceive any one mind sufficiently endowed; impossible for the most self-confident to find more than the seeds of such powers in himself. Would it not be wiser then to remit this part of reading and to allow the critics, the gowned and furred authorities of the library, to decide the question of the book's absolute value for us? Yet how impossible! We may stress the value of sympathy; we may try to sink our own identity as we read. But we know that we cannot sympathize wholly or immerse ourselves wholly; there is always a demon in us who whispers, "I hate, I love," and we cannot silence him. Indeed it is precisely because we hate  and we love that our relation with the poets and novelists is so intimate that we find the presence of another person intolerable. And even if the results are abhorrent and our judgments are wrong, still our taste, the nerve of sensation that sends shocks through us, is our chief illuminant; we learn through feeling; we cannot suppress our own idiosyncrasy without impoverishing it. 
But as time goes on perhaps we can train our taste; perhaps we can make it submit to some control. When it has fed greedily and lavishly upon books of all sorts - poetry, fiction, history, biography - and has stopped reading and looked for long spaces upon the variety, the incongruity of the living world, we shall find that it is changing a little; it is not so greedy, it is more reflective. It will begin to bring us not merely judgments on particular books, but it will tell us that there is a quality common to certain books. ...
Thus with our taste to guide us, we shall venture beyond the particular book in search of qualities that group books together;... We shall gain a further and a rarer pleasure from that discrimination.
... it may be well to turn to the very rare writers who are able to enlighten us upon literature as an art. Coleridge and Dryden and Johnson, in their considered criticism, the poets and novelists themselves in their unconsidered sayings, are often surprisingly relevant; they light up and solidify the vague ideas that have been tumbling in the misty depths of our minds. But they are only able to help us if we come to them laden with questions and suggestions won honestly in the course our own reading. They can do nothing for us if we herd ourselves under their authority and lie down like sheep in the shade of a hedge. We can only understand their ruling when it comes in conflict with our own and vanquishes it.
... if to read a book as it should be read calls for the rarest qualities of imagination, insight and judgment, you may perhaps conclude that literature is a very complex art and that it is unlikely that we shall be able, even after a lifetime of reading, to make any valuable contribution to its criticism.
We must remain readers; we shall not put on the further glory that belongs to those rare beings who are also critics. But still we have our responsibilities as readers and even our importance. The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work. ... And that influence, if it were well instructed, vigorous and individual and sincere, might be of great value now when criticism is necessarily in abeyance;... 
If ... the author felt that there was another kind of criticism, the opinion of people reading for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally and with great severity, might this not improve the quality of his work? And if by our means books were to become stronger, richer, and more varied, that would be an end worth reaching.
Yet who reads to bring about an end, however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practice because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is this not among them?"
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS~ take a break from watching the Olympics on the TV, turn off the technology and get everyone to settle down with a physical book to read for an hour or so.

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