28 February 2014

Careless Readers

Anonymous, "On Careless Reading," Peace of Mind; Essays and Reflections from August 1914 to September 1917 (London: Andrew Melrose, 1918), p. 32:
One knows the type of person [who reads carelessly]. You meet him or her at dinner, and as the talk must, in deference to you, be "literary," he or she says: "I wonder if you read a most unusual novel which I read a week or two ago. I can't remember its title, but it was most striking. Now – isn't it provoking? – it's gone clean out of my mind." Willing to keep the conversational ball rolling, you suggest that the name of the author, or even of the publisher, might give you a clue, if the book was really a distinctive one. But no, the person "fond of reading" could remember neither; even the plot, or the subject of the story, could not be recalled. No doubt the novel had been read; no doubt the reader had thought it "unusual"; but it had left nothing but a blurred impression on the mind, as of an unfixed photograph that has been exposed to the light. In a little while there would be no impression at all, but only a kind of smudge on which no new real impression could be made. [...]

The people who forget the titles of books, and their authors – of course they never knew the names of their publishers – are, roughly speaking, people who could very well live without books, upon whom, indeed, books are probably incapable of making any educational impression. To me, people of this class would be much more interesting if they never mentioned books, or if they spoke of them only to say that they never read them.