Summary of How Should One Read A Book

How Should One Read A Book? – Virginia Woolf

In the essay, “How Should One Read a Book?”  from the pen of Virginia Woolf talks about how she views reading a book as a personal experience for everyone. Virginia Woolf was an English writer who is considered one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device. She views reading as a thing of liberty and freedom, where you can escape and not be bothered by what everyone else thinks. It is fact that Woolf’s feelings about reading influenced her writings. She wrote whatever she wanted and never censored her thoughts. She also wants to change the way we see certain literature.

We see fiction as mere amusement, poetry as false and biographies are flattering. She describes poetry and biography extensively and uses examples from other writers.  This ‘How Should One Read A Book’ is teaching us, what Woolf thinks, is the proper way to read a book. She believes that even if we read something a hundred times we will never be able to truly criticize or understand it, because literature is so deep and profound.

In the first paragraph Woolf says, “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.” Similarly, she is trying to say that no one views and imagines a book in the same way. The readers do not even imagine a book the way, how the writer intended to communicate them. Therefore, it may be in a way the readers are also the writers since they come up with their own conclusions. It is like when a book becomes a movie: the director shows the way that he viewed the book; he may even change certain events and characters for the movie.

The writer may argue against this but they can do nothing about it, since the director had made it his own. Woolf also argues that one cannot truly say that one book is better than other is. “Romeo and Juliet” may be viewed as one of the greatest books of all times, but to whom? We see it a certain way and Shakespeare certainly is not with us to discuss and decide which book is better than the other.

Recommended For Reading

Animal Crackers Summary & Analysis by Richard de Zoysa

The Song of Death’s Summary & Exercise

Three Questions: Summary and Analysis by Leo Tolstoy

How Should One Read A Book is an ironic essay that Woolf is trying to say that we should not be told how to read a book since it takes away our freedom, but later on she is telling us how we should read a book. She tells in the essay How Should One Read A Book us not to dictate the author but to try to become him. She is convincing the reader that he/she should not ask, “Why would the character do that? I would have made them do so and so.” The reader should respect the author’s choice and try to understand why they wrote that.

She also thinks that it takes away from us truly enjoying the book. She thinks that when we read, we are in a different world, and when we read, we should not let things from our present world influence the way we are seeking in the book. It also seems like Woolf is questioning the intelligence of the readers. She seems to believe that one must be an intellectual and college-educated person in order to appreciate a book.

The conclusion of the essay, How Should One Read A Book shows how much Virginia Woolf loved and valued reading. She looks at it as a kind of holy thing that will get you into Heaven. She thinks that the people with books under their arms will get into Heaven before the lawyers and the statesmen. She thinks that we not only read for pleasure but also it is a good thing to do.