Saturday, February 05, 2005

Learning to read

Ray Robertson, in a review of two books, offers a thoughtful discussion of the common claim that to have great writers, we need great readers.

Robertson summarizes The Writer's Voice, by A ALvarez, the first section of which address how writers find their voice, the second how readers recognize singular voices:
Like one's real friends, real writers don't sound quite like anyone else, could only be who they inimitably are. The reason so many people are so boring is because they all tend to sound the same. Likewise for so much of what masquerades as genuine literature.


(The third section of the book is dismissed as a personal rant against drugs and an aesthetic dumbing-down of culture.)

The other book reviewed is Michael Dirda's Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education. "Not particularly elegant, . . . but what it lacks in style it compensates for in missionary zeal and simple good taste."

Both types of critics — deep thinkers or those deeply concerned with the written products of deep thinkers — are welcome, and both are necessary in the ongoing attempt to keep alive and even nurture what Nabokov called the reader's "capacity to wonder at trifles . . . these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life [that] are the highest forms of consciousness." The ideal reader might not be much more than an intelligent innocent, a wide-awake witness to life's ostensibly less sensational and less newsworthy events, but, as Nabokov reminds us, "it is [from] this childishly speculative state of mind, so different from commonsense and its logic, that we know the world to be good."
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