In this age of 175,000 new books per year, there’s always the tendency to rush from new book to new book. Even though we can’t possibly read all these new books, lots of us try to make up for this by buying as many as we can (and leaving them unread on our sagging bookshelves). Against the futility inspired by the modern publishing machine, I offer these words:
A hundred years ago, Flaubert in a letter to his mistress made the following remark: “What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half dozen books.”
– Vladimir Nabokov, Good Readers and Good Writers
Yes, it is important to read widely, but let’s not forget that Flaubert’s “half dozen books” contain within them enough material for a lifetime of re-readings. Personally, I think I’d like to extend my range slightly beyond six books (and I do think the joy of discovering a new book for the first time has some merit in itself), but Nabokov and Flaubert have a good point.
Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.
I tend to agree. Of course this is difficult advice to follow when you are staring at a bookcase full of books you’ve been meaning to read. At those times I try to remember that this is about enjoyment; it’s not a race, even though it can feel like that when everyone except me has read the latest talk-of-the-town novel.
And now, just for fun, here’s a little quiz Nabokov used to delight in giving audiences. Four of the following ten attributes are, according to Nabokov, those of a good reader. Which are they?
1. The reader should belong to a book club.
2. The reader should identify himself or herself with the hero or heroine
3. The reader should concentrate on the social-economic angle
4. The reader should prefer a story with action and dialogue to one with none
5. The reader should have seen the book in a movie
6. The reader should be a budding author
7. The reader should have imagination
8. The reader should have memory
9. The reader should have a dictionary
10. The reader should have some artistic sense
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