23 January 2018

Counsel Upon the Reading of Books

Henry Van Dyke, "A Preface on Reading and Books," Counsel Upon the Reading of Books (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1901), pp. 21-22:
Read the preface first. It was probably written last. But the author put it at the beginning because he wanted to say something particular to you before you entered the book. Go in through the front door.

Read plenty of books about people and things, but not too many books about books. Literature is not to be taken in emulsion. The only way to know a great author is to read his works for yourself. That will give you knowledge at first-hand.

Read one book at a time, but never one book alone. Well-born books always have relatives. Follow them up. Learn something about the family if you want to understand the individual. If you have been reading the "Idylls of the King" go back to Sir Thomas Malory: if you have been keeping company with Stevenson, travel for a while with Scott, Dumas, and Defoe.

Read the old books, — those that have stood the test of time. Read them slowly, carefully, thoroughly. They will help you to discriminate among the new ones.

Read no book with which the author has not taken pains enough to write it in a clean, sound, lucid style. Life is short. If he thought so little of his work that he left it in the rough, it is not likely to be worth your pains in reading it.

Read over again the ten best books that you have already read. The result of this experiment will test your taste, measure your advance, and fit you for progress in the art of reading.
Related posts: