Title: The Art of Reading
Author: Damon Young
Genre: Non-fiction (popular philosophy)
Release Date: 28 March 2016
“In The Art of Reading, philosopher Damon Young reveals the pleasures of this intimate pursuit through a rich sample of literature: from Virginia Woolf’s diaries to Batman comics. He writes with honesty and humour about the blunders and revelations of his own bookish life.
Devoting each chapter to a literary virtue—curiosity, patience, courage, pride, temperance, justice—The Art of Reading celebrates the reader’s power: to turn shapes on a page into a lifelong adventure.” (Melbourne University Press)
First, I need to babble about the cover of this book for a bit. Look how cute it is! It’s simple but effective and just screams ‘reader’. I’m not a huge fan of green, but this is probably one of my most favourite book covers in recent times. Two enthusiastic thumbs up to the cover designer.
And now for the inside.
I won’t lie, I did get a little bit lost in some parts and that prompts me to say that this is a book that needs more than one reading before you’ll take away everything you need from it. This book is the personal reading journey of one person, so it’s important to go into this book with an open mind; be prepared to disagree with things but also to learn. It was a quick and enlightening read, and can easily be finished in one sitting (with a nap part way through if you’re me). But I’d recommend reading it with breaks between chapters so you can digest everything properly.
The literary virtues – curiosity, patience, courage, pride, temperance, and justice – that Damon Young writes about, are based on Aristotle’s theory of virtue, and are those that help us not just to read, but read well. Some virtues are inherent in us, others we have to work at. Others still are inherent in us but not necessarily in a good way, as demonstrated to me by the chapter about ‘Patience’.
I’ve always considered myself a patient reader – I’ll stick out just about anything and pride myself on the fact that I have few books that I mark as ‘DNF’. In fact, the last time I DNF’d a book would have been about 10 years ago. Since I started blogging about books I’ve thought this was a good thing, because how can I form a proper opinion if I don’t read the whole thing? But! The Art of Reading has led me to the conclusion that my inability to DNF is more of a forced habit in me than it is a virtue:
“Literary patience is not a duty to read every work to the end; to endure a thousand smug tweets or stanzas of doggerel. What constitutes patience changes with the text and the reader.” (Loc 794)
Should I have remained patient and kept on with Fifty Shades of Grey? Probably not. Is it worth my time to keep on with something like War & Peace, a book that is approximately 3.5 times longer than the former? Definitely; but perhaps the opposite is true for other readers. Some books take longer than others for the reader to benefit from the reading of a book (and by benefit I mean gain enjoyment, have an epiphany, build on an idea, etc.) and even then, they may not be ready mentally to read a certain book (see my thoughts here on the differences between my reading of War & Peace now to the first time I read it). While I won’t now start going out of my way to DNF, I will be giving greater consideration to my decision to read or not to read (points to you if you thought about Hamlet just then).
The Art of Reading also highlighted to me how reading to many people is just another thing that we have the ability to do and which most of us take for granted:
“[T]he virtues of reading are rarely celebrated. Reading well is treated as a rudimentary skill, not a lifelong ambition; not a creative talent to tenaciously enrich and enhance.
This contrasts with the popular writing industry: degrees, short courses, workshops, masterclasses, centres, festival panels. Newspapers and magazines run ‘how-to’ pages…” (Loc 263)
But without readers, all those workshop attendees would have no audience. Just some food for thought.
While not a ‘how-to guide’ (because readers don’t have those, remember?), The Art of Reading is a good place to start if you want to examine your reading habits on a different level and become a better reader. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t ever read purely for pleasure, but I think it’s especially important for book bloggers to read well. It’s true that we will like what we like and hate what we hate, but if we’re going to share our opinions about a book, we should make sure that we are being fair to it when forming and voicing that opinion.
Reading really is an art – we paint/draw/scribble pictures in our mind as we read; I think that’s pretty special and like any artist we should hone our skills. But even if you don’t want to examine your reader self on a deeper level, you should still read The Art of Reading if only to remind yourself of how magical reading really is, and how vastly different the experience is from reader to reader.