Friday, September 4, 2009

Definition of a Common Reader by Virginia Woolf

As I mentioned previously in my discussion of Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman, I have been wanting to read Virginia Woof's The Common Reader.  In the preface to Fadiman's book, she quotes Woolf's definition of a common reader, and I wanted to share it.

The common reader "differs from the critic and the scholar.  He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously.  He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole."

Fadiman also quotes Woolf as she describes, "all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books, where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people."

What do you think of Woolf's description of a "common reader".  In many ways, I agree with her assessment.  I believe I would consider myself to be a common reader, and I am by no means a scholar or a critic.  I like to consider myself well-educated, but not compared to a literature professor.  I definitely believe in the last part of her description, as I do seem to be looking for some kind of whole in the disparate volumes I read everyday.  

I want to read more about "all those rooms" and the books they hold.  I am most looking forward to arranging my modest library when I finally move into a new apartment so that I may carry on the "pursuit of reading".


Hannah said...

My question was going to be how do you define a scholar?

Princeton online Dictionary defines a scholar as "a learned person (especially in the humanities)"

So I guess I am a commonreader too - if thats ok lol.

Caitlin said...

No, that's definitely a good question. I'm not sure how I would describe as scholar. In some ways, I would definitely consider myself to be one. But I think when I read Woolf's definition, I was thinking of a scholar as more of a professional reader-like a professor or writer of/about books.

That's just my own interpretation, though. It could go many different ways.