How Should One Read a Book? (2):Virginia Woolf works

“We have only to compare”—with those words the cat is out
of the bag, and the true complexity of reading is admitted. The
first process, to receive impressions with the utmost
understanding, is only half the process of reading; it must be
completed, if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book, by
another. We must pass judgment upon these multitudinous
impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard
and lasting. But not directly. Wait for the dust of reading to
settle; for the conflict and the questioning to die down; walk,
talk, pull the dead petals from a rose, or fall asleep. Then
suddenly without our willing it, for it is thus that Nature
undertakes these transitions, the book will return, but
differently. It will float to the top of the mind as a whole. And
the book as a whole is different from the book received currently
in separate phrases. Details now fit themselves into their places.
We see the shape from start to finish; it is a barn, a pig-sty, or
a cathedral. Now then we can compare book with book as we compare
building with building. But this act of comparison means that our
attitude has changed; we are no longer the friends of the writer,
but his judges; and just as we cannot be too sympathetic as
friends, so as judges we cannot be too severe. Are they not
criminals, books that have wasted our time and sympathy; are they
not the most insidious enemies of society, corrupters, defilers,
the writers of false books, faked books, books that fill the air
with decay and disease? Let us then be severe in our judgments; let
us compare each book with the greatest of its kind. There they hang
in the mind the shapes of the books we have read solidified by the
judgments we have passed on them—Robinson Crusoe, Emma, The Return
of the Native. Compare the novels with these—even the latest and
least of novels has a right to be judged with the best. And so with
poetry—when the intoxication of rhythm has died down and the
splendour of words has faded a visionary shape will return to us
and this must be compared with Lear, with Phedre,[5] with The
Prelude;[6] or if not with these, with whatever is the best or
seems to us to be the best in its own kind. And we may be sure that
the newness of new poetry and fiction is its most superficial
quality and that we have only to alter slightly, not to recast, the
standards by which we have judged the old.
It would be foolish, then, to pretend that the second part of
reading, to judge, to compare, is as simple as the first—to open
the mind wide to the fast flocking of innumerable impressions. To
continue reading without the book before you, To hold one
shadow-shape against another, to have read widely enough and with
enough understanding to make such comparisons alive and
illuminating—that is difficult; it is still more difficult to
press further and to say, “Not only is the book of this sort, but
it is of this value; here it fails; here it succeeds; this is bad;
that is good.” To carry out this part of a reader’s duty needs
such imagination, insight, and learning that it is hard to conceive
any one mind sufficiently endowed; impossible for the most
self-confident to find more than the seeds of such powers in
himself. Would it not be wiser, then, to remit this part of reading
and to allow the critics, the gowned and furred authorities of the
library, to decide the question of the book’s absolute value for
us? Yet how impossible! We may stress the value of sympathy; we may
try to sink our own identity as we read. But we know that we cannot
sympathise wholly or immerse ourselves wholly; there is always a
demon in us who whispers, “I hate, I love,” and we cannot silence
him. Indeed, it is precisely because we hate and we love that our
relation with the poets and novelists is so intimate that we find
the presence of another person intolerable. And even if the results
are abhorrent and our judgments are wrong, still our taste, the
nerve of sensation that sends shocks through us, is our chief
illuminating; we learn through feeling; we cannot suppress our own
idiosyncrasy without impoverishing it. But as time goes on perhaps
we can train our taste; perhaps we can make it submit to some
control. When it has fed greedily and lavishly upon books of all
sorts—poetry, fiction, history, biography—and has stopped reading
and looked for long spaces upon the variety, the incongruity of the
living world, we shall find that it is changing a little; it is not
so greedy, it is more reflective. It will begin to bring us not
merely judgments on particular books, but it will tell us that
there is a quality common to certain books. Listen, it will say,
what shall we call this? And it will read us perhaps Lear and then
perhaps Agamenon[7] in order to bring out that common quality.
Thus, with our taste to guide us, we shall venture beyond the
particular book in search of qualities that group books together;
we shall give them names and thus frame a rule that brings order
into our perceptions. We shall gain a further and a rarer pleasure
from that discrimination. But as a rule only lives when it is
perpetually broken by contact with the books themselves—nothing is
easier and more stultifying than to make rules which exist out
touch with facts, in a vacuum—now at least, in order to steady
ourselves in this difficult attempt, it may be well to turn to the
very rare writers who are able to enlighten us upon literature as
an art. Coleridge[8] and Dryden[9] and Johnson,[10] in their
considered criticism, the poets and novelists themselves in their
considered sayings are often surprisingly relevant; they light up
and solidity the vague ideas that have been tumbling in the misty
depths of our minds. But they are only able to help us if we come
to them laden with questions and suggestions won honestly in the
course of our own reading. They can do nothing for us if we herd
ourselves under their authority and lie down like sheep in the
shade of a hedge. We can only understand their ruling when it comes
in conflict with our own and vanquishes it.
If this is so, if to read a book as it should be read calls
for the rarest qualities of imagination, insight, and judgment, you
may perhaps, conclude that literature is a very complex art and
that it is unlikely that we shall be able, even after a lifetime of
reading, to make any valuable contribution to its criticism. We
must remain readers; we shall not put on the further glory that
belongs to those rare beings who are also critics. But still we
have our responsibilities as readers and even our importance. The
standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and
become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work.
An influence is created which tells upon them even if it never
finds its way into print. And that influence, if it were well
instructed, vigorous and individual and sincere, might be of great
value now when criticism is necessarily in abeyance; when books
pass in review like the procession of animals in a shooting
gallery, and the critic has only one second in which to load and
aim and shoot and may well be pardoned if he mistakes rabbits for
tigers, eagles for bar-door fowls, or misses altogether and wastes
his shot upon some peaceful sow grazing in a further field. If
behind the erratic gunfire of the press the author felt that that
there was another kind of criticism, the opinion of people reading
for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally, and judging
with great sympathy and yet with great severity, might this not
improve the quality of his work? And if by our means books were to
become stronger, richer, and more varied, that would be an end
worth reaching.
Yet who reads to bring about an end however desirable? Are
there not some pursuits that we practice because they are good in
themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this
among them? 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[11] 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
Questions for Comprehension and Consideration:
1. The title of the essay gives a sense of offering advice on
reading and the author begins her essay by saying “In the first
place, I want to emphasize the note of interrogation at the end of
my title.” Why does the author start her essay in this way and
what does she really want to point out in her first paragraph which
serves as her starting point when she offers ideas and suggestions
on reading.
2. How do you understand the author’s idea of “Do not
dictate to your author; try to become him. Be his fellow-worker and
accomplice” in paragraph 3. How does your reading experience agree
or disagree with the author’s advice?
3. Virginia Woolf says “the quickest way to understand the
elements of what a novelist is doing is not to read, but to
write;” and she also gives an example to support it. What do you
think of the example? Have you ever had such experience of
“experimenting with dangers and difficulties of words” ? If you
have how do you comment your experience?
4. The author mentions three writers in paragraph 4 and points
out that although they depict things totally different they share
one same important element. What is it? Read at least one novel of
each writer mentioned and try to understand the different worlds
the authors created and see whether you agree to the comment
Virginia Woolf made or not.
5. What is the true complexity of reading and what are the
reading processes Virginia Woolf depicts? How do the processes
agree or disagree to your reading experience?
6. In the difficult process of reading the author advises us
to read some very rare writers who are able to enlighten us upon
literature of art. To what extent and on what circumstance they are
able to help us?
7. In what sense does Virginia Woolf think that common readers
have responsibilities and importance in raising the standards and
the judgment of reading?
8. How do you feel the author’s rhetoric question “Are there
not some pursuits that we practice because they are good in
themselves, … and is not this (reading) among them”? Write a
passage with concrete examples to show your true understanding of
[1] the battle of Waterloo Waterloo is a town in Belgium, the
place where Napoleon Bonaparte(1769—1821) and his army was totally
[2] Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866),British novelist and
[3] Anthony Trollope (1815—82), British novelist.
[4] George Meredith(1828–1909),British novelist and
[5] Phedre French tragic poet Jean Racine’s(1639—1699)
[6] The Prelude British poet William Wordsworth’s(1770—1850)
long poem.
[7] Agamenon The ancient Greece great tragic poet
Aischulos’(520 BC—456BC) works.
[8] Samuel Taylor Coleridge(1772—1834) British romantic
[9] John Dryden(1631—1700) British poet and critic.
[10] Samuel Johnson(1709—1784) British writer.
[11] Peter one of the twelve disciple of Jesus Christ.
文/Virginia Woolf 译/何朝阳


How Should One Read a Book? (1):Virginia Woolf works





How Should One Read a Book?
by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) from The Second Common Reader

In the first place, I want to emphasize the note of
interrogation at the end of my title. Even if I could answer the
question for myself, the answer would apply only to me and not to
you. 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. If this is
agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few
ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter
that independence which is the most important quality that a reader
can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The
battle of Waterloo[1] was certainly fought on a certain day; but is
Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide
that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily
furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to
read, what to read, what value to place on what we read, is to
destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those
sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and
conventions—there we have none.
But to enjoy freedom, if the platitude is pardonable, we have of
course to control ourselves. We must not squander our powers,
helplessly and ignorantly, squirting half the house in order to
water a single rose-bush; we must train them, exactly and
powerfully, here on the very spot. This, it may be, is one of the
first difficulties that faces us in a library. What is “the very
spot”? There may well seem to be nothing but a conglomeration and
huddle of confusion. Poems and novels, histories and memoirs,
dictionaries and blue-books; books written in all languages by men
and women of all tempers, races, and ages jostle each other on the
shelf. And outside the donkey brays, the women gossip at the pump,
the colts gallop across the fields. Where are we to begin? How are
we to bring order into this multitudinous chaos and get the deepest
and widest pleasure from what we read?
It is simple enough to say that since books have classes–fiction,
biography, poetry–we should separate them and take from each what
it is right that each should give us. Yet few people ask from books
what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred
and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of
poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be
flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If
we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be
an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to
become him. Be his fellow-worker and accomplice. If you hang back,
and reserve and criticize at first, you are preventing yourself
from getting the fullest possible value from what you read. But if
you open your mind as widely as possible, the signs and hints of
almost imperceptible fineness, from the twist and turn of the first
sentences, will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike
any other. Steep yourself in this, acquaint yourself with this, and
soon you will find that your author is giving you, or attempting to
give you, something far more definite. The thirty-two chapters of a
novel—if we consider how to read a novel first–are an attempt to
make something as formed and controlled as a building: but words
are more impalpable than bricks; reading is a longer and more
complicated process than seeing. Perhaps the quickest way to
understand the elements of what a novelist is doing is not to read,
but to write; to make your own experiment with the dangers and
difficulties of words. Recall, then, some event that has left a
distinct impression on you—how at the corner of the street,
perhaps, you passed two people talking. A tree shook; an electric
light danced; the tone of the talk was comic, but also tragic; a
whole vision; an entire conception, seemed contained in that
But when you attempt to reconstruct it in words, you will find that
it breaks into a thousand conflicting impressions. Some must be
subdued; others emphasized; in the process you will lose, probably,
all grasp upon the emotion itself. Then turn from your blurred and
littered pages to the opening pages of some great novelist—Defoe,
Jane Austen, or Hardy. Now you will be better able to appreciate
their mastery. It is not merely that we are in the presence of a
different person—Defoe, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy—but that we
are living in a different world. Here, in Robinson Crusoe, we are
trudging a plain high road; one thing happens after another; the
fact and the order of the fact is enough. But if the open air and
adventure mean everything to Defoe they mean nothing to Jane
Austen. Hers is the drawing-room, and people talking, and by the
many mirrors of their talk revealing their characters. And if, when
we have accustomed ourselves to the drawing-room and its
reflections, we turn to Hardy, we are once more spun around. The
other side of the mind is now exposed—the dark side that comes
uppermost in solitude, not the light side that shows in company.
Our relations are not towards people, but towards Nature and
destiny. Yet different as these worlds are, each is consistent with
itself. The maker of each is careful to observe the laws of his own
perspective, and however great a strain they may put upon us they
will never confuse us, as lesser writers so frequently do, by
introducing two different kinds of reality into the same book. Thus
to go from one great novelist to another—from Jane Austen to
Hardy, from Peacock[2] to Trollope,[3] from Scott to
Meredith[4]—is to be wrenched and uprooted; to be thrown this way
and then that. To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. You
must be capable not only of great finesse of perception, but of
great boldness of imagination if you are going to make use of all
that the novelist—the great artist—gives you.








十年:Boyz II men

1 网民的十年,让我成为了mouse patato;
3 图书馆是我的图腾,并有幸成为专业领域的小编;
4 十年,北京有了四环、五环、六环和十环(竹帛斋主语),我的腰围也张了一环;
7 经历很多的亲友变故,换来的是成长了自己;
9 友情出演了一部DV,过了一把明星瘾;
10 成为房奴、卡奴,但心向自由的十年!

韩日印象之一:IFLA SNAIL(12P)

Bibliographies – the Asian Experience 中有一个报告:National
Bibliographies: the Chinese experience(。我亲临现场,为这个经常给我讲笑话的本家老兄写真。
IFLA EXPRESS中文版就是在此地炼成的
Lek Choh亲自坐展,还送了我一本2010年NLB的规划书。






1. 一本你不只读了一次的图书
如何阅读一本书(Mortimer J.
2. 一本你如果身在沙漠时想读的书
3. 一本让你发笑的书
 4. 一本让你哭的书
5. 一本你希望是自己写的书
6. 一本你希望从未写就的书
7. 一本正在读的书
8. 一本读来有意味的书
9. 一本改变你一生的书



1 近日清华同方推出数值搜索,赶紧试验了一把,分别敲入“万方利润”和“同方利润”发现万方以103:99小胜同方。有朝一日能搜索锦涛的工资肯定是走入和谐社会的一个标志。另外,同方还有一个学术定义搜索也不错,本人越来越喜欢类似的垂直搜索了,像搜索图书的读秀,搜索论坛的奇虎,搜索blog的feedster,8月发布的搜索音乐的bala等等。
2 最近看到的time评选的热门网站——50大酷毙至极25大非你不可,有兴趣看看去。


1 近日美国加州大学加入Google数字图书馆计划,值得庆祝!本人是Google此计划的拥趸,号称信息共享的图书馆大部分都对此计划谨慎而保守,当然也包括了我国的图书馆。与其说他们担心自己传统的文化遗产和自身文明被美国一只“无形之手”所压,不如说他们对自己所赖以存在的垄断资源的庇护罢了。可喜的是,欧洲“为奋起辩护”,我国进行“文化共享”等项目。还有,据小道传闻称,baidu计划设立图书馆计划;据大道信息讲,我国将进行国家级古籍数字化项目(《数字图书馆论坛》近期也将推出古籍数字化专题或者专刊)。我们期待的是“代表最广大群众的根本利益”的资源共享,管它是政府行为还是商业运作。我们的图书馆不“与时俱进”的结果就是作茧自缚。2004年12月14日,一个肯定改变世界图书馆的日子!
2 继方正APABI惹上侵权官司后,最近中文在线也没幸免,讽刺的是:去年“警察”今年成被告,网络传播权条例发布后会有更多这样的问题存在。
3 闲来无空明天就来北京参加清华的数图研讨班,今天在火车上还不忘宣传《数字图书馆论坛》,我对他以建设和谐社会为目标的革命大无畏精神表示滔滔江水延绵不绝的感谢!我明天也会到清华,see