ARC: How Should One Read a Book?

Today Laurence King Publishing are re-issuing one of Virginia Woolf’s most timeless essays: How Should One Read a Book? I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reading copy through Net Galley of this perceptive essay, complete with a fantastic afterword by Sheila Heti, in exchange for my honest review – thank you.

How Should One Read a Book? By Virginia Woolf, afterword by Sheila Heti

I thoroughly enjoyed this captivating essay, which is brimming with Woolf’s trademark style of perceptive observation in her accessible, engaging and conversational tone. Here Woolf tackles the question How Should One Read a Book? – a question that many readers and non-readers alike are apt to ask themselves. The topic is particularly timeless and, in combination with Woolf’s approach, means that readers today are bound to identify with the experiences she explores throughout this essay.

The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.

Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read a Book?, 2020.

The original essay is complimented beautifully by the words of Sheila Heti, who adds her own perceptions on reading and writing, and explores deeper some of the points touched on by Woolf. Heti brings Woolf’s words back into the limelight and into the hands of today’s readers, as well as sharing her own experiences on this topic.

I especially loved the part in Sheila’s introduction where she shares Woolf’s ideas on books returning to us as a shadow shape in our mind, more of an experience, a visionary shape – specifics are often forgotten and instead they hang in the mind the shapes of the books we have read. Sheila’s introduction looks deeply into the experience of being a reader and Woolf’s ideas on book memories, saying herself that, The shape of the book ends up being some alchemy between the shape the writer created and the shape of our life as we read it – who can’t identify with that?

Woolf observes with bitterness the harshness of the uninvested reader and emotionally detached critic. She talks of the satisfaction of the writers words finally making it into the hands of the true readers, the ones who are capable of keeping books alive through pressing them into the hands of others – and so the work lives on.

Wonderfully cosy autumnal reading – perfect for an hours solitude with a mug of hot chocolate. Would thoroughly recommend to anyone who wants to understand more about the power of books and readers, as well as those who already know the magic of words and reading.

For fear of taking away the pleasure of Woolf’s voice and the gems of experience concealed within, I can now only recommend reading it for yourself… On reflection I wouldn’t dare to advise, for as Woolf herself says, you must follow your own instincts 😉

Meg Readz xx

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