The reader’s independence is a primary focus in Virginia Woolf’s essay. Consequently, she clearly states her intention is not to give direct advice but to share thoughts which will hopefully help the reader find their own path. An intent that is successfully achieved. Her suggestion is readers approach each book with an open mind, without preconceptions, and with an expectation of being introduced into new worlds. Each author has their own way of sharing their tales and the reader needs to make allowance for this. The one primary attribute readers really require is an imagination. Another clear principle the author draws out is not to allow others, professional critics for instance, to determine the reader’s opinion of a book. They should really make their own diagnosis.
It is hard to do this excellent, insightful essay justice in a short review unless its content is to be repeated, which would make this a pointless exercise. The only further points to draw out from Virginia’s essay, that was originally delivered as a lecture at a girl’s school, are: despite the title it is an essay not just for readers but also for authors, critics, and reviewers; and her viewpoint of reading being half reception (receiving the story) and half judgment. This really is an essay that covers all aspects of reading and deserves to be read in its own right. Not an onerous task considering the excellent content and concise length.
This enhanced edition of Virginia Woolf’s essay includes a forward and afterword by Sheila Heti: an internationally published author who has also been the subject of media features.
The forward endeavours to fathom and define the abstract, intangible, ambiguous, and ambivalent nature of reading, books, and the stories they contain. To provide them with a defining shape. The result is a composite of the writer’s own speculations and notions and her attempt, by drawing upon the primary essay, to interpret Virginia Woolf’s own thoughts. It also clarifies how a reader’s memory and recollections of a book may alter over time. How often it is about the impression left rather than the actual content. This forward certainly provides food for thought.
In the afterword Shelia Heti seeks to inform the general reader of what it is like to write a book. The pain, frustration, fear, joy, and ultimate sense of achievement. It is in fact an essay of her own which has little connection with this book’s primary subject. Nevertheless, it provides an insight into the character of an author. An insight some will find enlightening and one that helps them comprehend how the book they have just read came to be.
This is a short book that takes little time to read. However, if a reader is constrained for time they are recommended, despite the interesting concepts propounded, to skip the forward and afterword and concentrate on the primary essay. After all that is what this book is principally about: the nature of reading and the reader.
The hardback edition of this book, to be published by Laurence King Publishing Ltd, is currently available for pre-order from several book retailers, including Amazon. Publication date is 12 October 2020.
An internet search of the book’s ISBN: 9781786277527 will reveal all outlets.
The following are Amazon pre-order links:
Note: An earlier DIFFERENT kindle edition is available from Amazon but it should not be mistaken for the one reviewed here: it omits any forward or afterword.
The edition read was obtained from NetGalley by the kind generosity of the publisher.