It is so appropriate that reader Zeke posted a Nabokov quote on re-reading in his comment about Hazlitt’s essay the other day because what should I read last night in Reading in Bed but the very essay from which the quote was taken. “Good Readers and Good Writers” is excerpted from Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature which I now want to read more than ever. If I moved to a planet with a 48-hour day would I have more time to read?
Nabokov says that to be a good reader we need to be re-readers and we need to “notice and fondle details.” A good reader also has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense. I agree with the fondling of details most definitely. It also helps to have an imagination and a good dictionary is certainly helpful. But memory? What kind of memory and for what? Memory of details? Memory for the characters and the novel’s development as you read along? Historical memory? Some other kind of memory? All of the above? As for artistic sense, what does that mean exactly? But Nabokov doesn’t go into details. Perhaps he elaborates throughout the course of the lectures.
What I am going to steal from Nabokov is his “quiz” he gave to some students one time in which he listed ten things that a reader should be and asked the students to pick out the four definitions that would make a good reader. That’s where imagination, a dictionary, etc., comes from. Don’t panic, I’m not going to give you a quiz.
Some of you may recall that I have been mulling over ways to become a better reader. Nabokov has given me the idea to enlist everyone’s help in coming up with what we might be able to call a profile of an expert reader. It is, after all, hard to reach a goal of becoming better at something if you aren’t clear about what better looks like.
So, close your eyes or stare out the window and let your mind ponder a moment what the person awarded a coffee mug that said “World’s Greatest Reader” might be like. What skills, qualities, traits does this person have? What does being a good reader, an expert reader look like? What does it mean?
I don’t have a whole picture but I suspect a good reader pays attention and thinks about what she is reading. I’m not sure that what she thinks or how she thinks is that important, it’s just the fact of thinking that matters. I could be wrong. Tell me in the comments. Tell me what you think makes a good reader.