Sunday, April 25, 2010

'The Good Reader'

Rules for Reading

'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss: in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakeably meant for his ear.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The latest edition of Lit Life by Julia Keller is an essay that asks the question: What are your rules for reading? This was one of her best columns in some time, especially since she started it with a quotation from one of my favorite authors, Andre Gide, so I thought I might consider if there were any rules of my own that I might apply to the reading which I do every day (and twice on weekends). Her suggested rules include "trust first impressions", "read a classic", mark in your books", "re-read", and a couple of others. They sound fine to me although I would modify some; for example, I limit my rereading to the best books I read and my favorites (some of which are among the best that I have read). I would both concur with Julia and add some of my own rules, and with the disclaimer that this list may not be exhaustive I would suggest the following:
  • Have patience with a book, i.e. give it a chance to develop rather than dropping it after a few pages. I have found that almost as often that a book grips my attention immediately there is one that develops slowly, but with patience keeps improving and becomes a better, more interesting, read as I progress well into the book. Some of the books I have recently enjoyed the most have developed slowly but rewarded my patience.
  • Read classics (the ancient Greeks are a good place to start) in the new translations from authors like Robert Fagles and David Ferry that enliven the great ideas with a more modern idiom. The result is accessible prose (or poetry) and both an enjoyable and exciting read.
  • Read a variety of genres and types of books. I enjoy novels, but have found good reads in many genres including, contemporary, historical, mystery, science-fiction, and victorians, among others. I also enjoy memoir, history, science, philosophy and travel among non-fiction books.
  • Do not be afraid to set aside a book and return to it later. I have found that some books with I consider my favorites did not impress me the first time that I started to read them.
Just a few rules, if you must have them, but the most important rule is to read often and enjoy what you do read!

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