How Should One Read a Book?
It is simple enough to say that since books have classes——fiction，biography，poetry——weshould separate them and take from each what it is right that each should give us. Yet fewpeople ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurredand divided minds，asking of fiction that it shall be true，of poetry that it shall be false，ofbiography that it shall be flattering，of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If wecould banish all such preconceptions when we read，that would be an admirable beginning. Donot dictate to your author;Try to become him. Be his fellow-worker and accomplice. If youhang back，and reserve and criticize at first，you are preventing yourself from getting thefullest possible value from what you read. But if you open your mind as widely as possible，thesigns and hints of almost imperceptible fineness，from the twist and turn of the firstsentences，will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike any other. Steep yourselfin this，acquaint yourself with this，and soon you will find that your author is giving you，orattempting to give you，something far more definite. The thirty-two chapters of a novel—if weconsider how to read a novel first——are an attempt to make something as formed andcontrolled as a building：but words are more impalpable than bricks;Reading is a longer andmore complicated process than seeing. Perhaps the quickest way to understand the elementsof what a novelist is doing is not to read，but to write;To make your own experiment with thedangers and difficulties of words. Recall，then，some event that has left a distinct impressionon you—how at the corner of the street，perhaps，you passed two people talking. A treeshook;an electric light danced;the tone of the talk was comic，but also tragic;a wholevision;an entire conception，seemed contained in that moment.
But when you attempt to reconstruct it in words，you will find that it breaks into a thousandconflicting impressions. Some must be subdued;others emphasized;in the process you willlose，probably，all grasp upon the emotion itself. Then turn from your blurred and litteredpages to the opening pages of some great novelist—Defoe，Jane Austen，or Hardy. Now youwill be better able to appreciate their mastery. It is not merely that we are in the presence ofa different person—Defoe，Jane Austen，or Thomas Hardy—but that we are living in a differentworld. Here，in Robinson Crusoe，we are trudging a plain high road;one thing happens afteranother;the fact and the order of the fact is enough. But if the open air and adventure meaneverything to Defoe they mean nothing to Jane Austen. Hers is the drawing-room，and peopletalking，and by the many mirrors of their talk revealing their characters. And if，when we haveaccustomed ourselves to the drawing-room and its reflections，we turn to Hardy，we are oncemore spun around. The other side of the mind is now exposed—the dark side that comesuppermost in solitude，not the light side that shows in company. Our relations are nottowards people，but towards Nature and destiny. Yet different as these worlds are，each isconsistent with itself. The maker of each is careful to observe the laws of his ownperspective，and however great a strain they may put upon us they will never confuseus，as lesser writers so frequently do，by introducing two different kinds of reality into thesame book. Thus to go from one great novelist to another—from Jane Austen to Hardy，fromPeacock to Trollope，from Scott to Meredith —is to be wrenched and uprooted;to be thrownthis way and then that. To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. You must be capable notonly of great finesse of perception，but of great boldness of imagination if you are going tomake use of all that the novelist—the great artist—gives you.