As the opening sentences of her famous essay on reading show, Virginia Woolf is highfalutin only to those who haven’t read her. As always, her chatty offhand charm and modesty impress and please. The humbling phase comes when you re-read, and see how simple she’s made complex matters, yet how rounded, deep, and full her expression.
I turned again to “How Should One Read a Book?” because after a while a reviewer tends to ask himself what he thinks he’s doing. What’s fair? Relevant? This weighed on me in wondering how to assess, for my recent review, Ted Kerasote’s Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs. I found this fine book marred by one major flaw in Kerasote’s judgment. I was uncertain how serious my disagreement is for the book, and puzzled by the issues it raised for reviewing in general.
I love Woolf’s unabashed passion and how it endorses one’s own deeply personal emotional response to literature—which, after all, is made from emotion. Engendering an emotional response is its very purpose.