Note on How should one read a book

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Source: Woolf
Source: Woolf

How Should One Read a Book?

In this essay “Hoe Should One Read a Book?” Woolf deals with the essential question of evaluation of something whether books or ball player or family tiffs: how personal perception can become generally solid judgments. Reading is the subject matter of the essay but what she says about reading is her thesis idea that is you should read for yourself, sympathetically, joyfully and then you will experience the ultimate pleasure of judging perceptively. While reading she suggests not to take advice but to follow own instincts, use own reason to come to own conclusion. Only then the ultimate pleasure of reading is attained. Only free and independent reading of a book is the most pleasing and effective reading.

Woolf says that the following the rules and techniques- how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read is to destroy the spirit of freedom of reading. Everywhere we may be bound by laws and conventions in reading we have none. She argues no rules and laws can be laid than about books. We cannot say that one book is better than another because it is the matter of personal perception. Books have classes, fiction, biography, poetry etc. we should separate them and take from each according to the interest and test. According to Woolf we readers have divided mind when we come to the books. We ask something like fictions shall be true, poetry shall fail, a biography would be flattering, history shall be prejudice etc. Woolf says that if we could banish such perception when we read that would be an admirable beginning. We should avoid preconception about the authors, we should rather become like him and be his fellow worker. If we try to deserve something or criticize at first, we are preventing our self from getting the fullest value from what we read. Opening the mind as widely as possible will bring signs and hints of the fineness and perfection about the book to us. According to Woolf the quickest way to understand the element of what a novelist is doing is not to read but to write and to experiment ourselves with the difficulties and dangers of words. Reading is a longer and more complicated process. Works are impalpable.

Woolf argues that to read the novel is the difficult and complex art. It demands capacity not only a great fineness of a perception but the great boldness of imagination. When we enter into a novel, we have two worlds one that is we are living and another world within the novel. To realize this fact we need kin interest and imagination. For example in the fictional world, we move from the world of Defoe to Jane Austen, from Jane Austen to Hardy. The novelist creates their own worlds within the novel. We need a sheer imagination to understand their worlds. For example, Jane Austen’s novel may consist of the world of the drawing room, people talking by the many mirrors of their talk revealing their characters. To realize the world created by the novelist, readers to need to have a kin power of perception and imagination.

While reading a book she refers to a book of literature. This essay is about the way of reading a book of literature. In general, the essay is about both the process and the reward of the reading. Keep your mind empty; don’t put any prejudice, preconception and ideologies of while reading a book. She suggests that there is no concrete way to read. The reader can adopt anyways s/he likes. She says that follow no advice, decide yourself what or which way he want to read and freedom of reader is needed. S/he should not be bound by any rules, orders and advice. The reader should follow his/her freedom and used his/her instinct to read a book. So that s/he get the pleasure of the text. There must be the spirit of the freedom on the part of the reader and his/her way of reading. She says that reading is the personal task for which one has needed no guidance. Sometimes the company of self will show us that every writer is not a great artist. For example, we may not like biography or autobiography of lying dead and forgotten people being stuck with the poems and novels. We may refuse to them because they are not art. But sometimes looking outside we may become curious about the lifestyle- the way lights are lit, people walking, women gossiping at the pump. Then we are filled with curiosity about the lives of the people. Then the biography and autobiography become relevant. Biography, memories, and autobiography answer the question like what are they, who are they, what are their name, their occupation, their thoughts, and adventure. We become able to know the facts and events about those dead and forgotten people. Such books are importance to quench the curiosity. But we can also read such books with another aim not to throw light all literature, not to become familiar with famous people but to refresh and exercise our own creative power. For example, we can read those books to find out the meaning of the colts galloping round the field, donkey’s braying and the woman filling her pail at the well.

But tire of rubbish reading of biography and autobiography in the long run. We think they could not tell the whole truth even about their own lives, facts are all that they can offers us and facts are a very inferior form of fiction. Thus, the desire grows upon us to crease to involve in such half truths and half statements. We search some pure truth. There we create more; intense feeling desires some regular, recurrent beat and natural expression of poetry. We feel that it is time to read poetry. Woolf asserts that the impacts of poetry are so hard and direct that for the moments there is no other sensation except that of the poem itself. Poetry creates more and leads us to such a profound depth that we dive into a so suddenly and completely.Without asking who wrote it and what it is about, we plunge enmesh in it. The poet is always our contemporary. The present is centered and becomes tight to poetry. We are filled with echoes and reflection. The sensation begins to spread in wider range through our minds. The intensity of poetry covers an immense range of emotion.

The process to received impression with the utmost understanding is only a half process of reading. To make reading complete and to get the whole pleasure from a book, another process should be done that is a judgment of the book. After seeing the conflicts and questions that came into mind while reading we should pass the judgment upon that multitude impression. Now the book as a whole is different from the book received currently. Details now feed themselves into their places. Now we can compare a book with a book as we compare building with the building. This act of comparison means that over attitudes had changed; we are no longer friends of the writer but he judges. We should pass judgment on books, compare each book with greatest of its kind. Even the latest novel can be judged with the best.


Lohani, s. (2012). Western Intellectual Tradition.Kathmandu: M.K. Publishers.

  • Virginia Woolf talks about how she views reading a book as a personal experience for all.
  • She views reading as a thing of liberty and freedom where you can escape not to be bothered by what everyone else things.
  • If we could banish all such preconception when we read that would be an admirable beginning.
  • The impact of poetry is hard and direct.
  • Woolf says that we read to refresh and exercised our own creative power.




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