Monday, 12 October 2020

How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf and Sheila Heti


How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf and Sheila Heti
First delivered as a lecture to the girls of Hayes Court Common School in January 1926. Republished by Lawrence King Publishing today, the 12th October 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Published for the first time as a standalone volume, Virginia Woolf's short, impassioned essay, How Should One Read a Book? celebrates the enduring importance of great literature. In this timeless manifesto on the written word, rediscover the joy of reading and the power of a good book to change the world.

One of the most significant modernist writers of the 20th Century, Virginia Woolf and her visionary essays are as relevant today as they were nearly one hundred years ago.

Features a new introduction and afterword by Sheila Heti.

I've previously read, I think, five of Virginia Woolf's books including Jacob's Room and Mrs Dalloway which I loved, and The Waves in a soporific audio edition that repeatedly sent me to sleep! How Should One Read a Book? is a different prospect in that it is Woolf's 1920s equivalent of a TEDx talk, originally delivered to a girls' school audience. In a sign of the times a-changing, I was frustrated at Woolf's using male pronouns throughout her lecture. As a female author speaking to a female audience, I felt she should at least have identified her theoretical readers as women. Perhaps she could have included more than a token Jane Austen in her named authors too! Other than this, I was interested in her ideas around how we can hone our reading tastes and her concept of 'shadow shapes' which are the lasting impressions we carry away from each book we read. Sheila Heti elaborates further on this in her thoughtful introduction. Actually, I think I preferred Heti's two essays to Woolf's, even though I know they were supposed to support the headline speaker. Woolf's focus on classics that I haven't read and inclusion of (presumably) famous quotes that I didn't recognise left me feeling a little excluded. 

I'll finish up with my favourite quote from the central essay which are also Virginia Woolf's closing words:
“I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards -- their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble -- the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Virginia Woolf and Sheila Heti / Nonfiction books / Books from England and Canada

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