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Monday, 7 March 2016

The art of reading

February 1930, 75 Cadogan Square, London

An acquaintance recently asserted in my hearing that certain great men indulged in 'skipping' whilst reading and thought that in that way the best could be extracted from books. I felt called upon to disagree with them. While I agree that many books may deserve to be skipped through I say (1) that 'skipped' books ought nineteen times out of twenty to be afterwards ignored, and (2) that there are more books worthy to be read carefully than any individual could by any possibility read carefully. I know for certain that there are many great and experienced bookmen who believe in reading little and reading it thoroughly. 

It is important to distinguish here between those who read entirely for pleasure and those for whom reading is there work. I am one of the latter, and in that role I necessarily have to do some 'skipping' simply to comply with the strictures of my employment. But when I read for myself I am with those who read little but thoroughly. I have fallen into the habit of writing about the books I read for pleasure just for my own benefit and I have found that this discipline encourages thoroughness. 

To my mind those persons who attempt to 'keep abreast' of modern literary output are doing it and themselves a disservice. They are in fact misguided and essentially flibbertigibbet persons whose real aim is not to get the best out of books but to shine at dinner tables and in other places where jabber about literature is immoderately indulged in.

Of course the time given to reading by men is more important than the time given to it by women. Women read more, at any rate longer, but it is the verdict of men that ultimately counts. It is noticeable that there are, and have been, few women literary critics. Some ladies of a feminist disposition will of course say that this is because they are excluded by men, it is a closed shop, literally an old boys club. Poppycock! To say that women are not creative is manifestly absurd as regards imaginative literature. But it does not appear so absurd to me to say that they are not very good critics. Women, through some decision of nature's, suffer as a sex from emotional instability. Emotional instability is not a sure foundation for good judgement in literature, or in anything else.

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