An Essayby W. H. Auden
A book is a mirror: if an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.
C. G. Lightenberg
One only reads well that which one reads with some quite personal purpose. It may be to acquire some power. It can be out of hatred for the author.
The interests of a writer and the interests of his readers are never the same and if, on occasion, they happen to coincide, this is a lucky accident.
In relation to a writer, most readers believe in the Double Standard: they may be unfaithful to him as often as they like, but he must never, never be unfaithful to them.
To read is to translate, for no two persons’ experiences are the same. A bad reader is like a bad translator: he interprets literally when he ought to paraphrase and paraphrases when he ought to interpret literally. In learning to read well, scholarship, valuable as it is, is less important than instinct; some great scholars have been poor translators.
We often derive much profit from reading a book in a different way from that which its author intended but only (once childhood is over) if we know that we are doing so.
As readers, most of us, to some degree, are like those urchins who pencil mustaches on the faces of girls in advertisements.
One sign that a book has literary value is that it can be read in a number of different ways. Vice versa, the proof that pornography has no literary value is that, if one attempts to read it in any other way than as a sexual stimulus, to read it, say, as a psychological case-history of the author’s sexual fantasies, one is bored to tears.