The Art of Reading by Damon Young

I love reading books by other readers about their experience of reading, about the books they love and why.  This book is a little different, in that it is about the activity, the art of reading.  It’s a book that made me think about an activity that I’ve been undertaking for the past 55 or so years, about how important reading is to me.

The Art of Reading by Damon Young

‘To my right is a small stained pine bookcase.  It contains, among other things, my childhood.’

In this thoughtful book, Damon Young, Honorary Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, looks at the power of readers to transform words into worlds.  Yes, it should be obvious that writing is only the first step of the process: without readers, writing is meaningless.  But why does reading become pleasurable for some of us, and not for others?   How can two people read the same book, and form entirely different opinions of it?  Visualisation and interpretation are clearly unique to each individual.  How will Damon Young’s experience of reading be of value to another reader?

Mr Young has identified six literary virtues, based on Aristotle’s theory of virtue: curiosity, patience, courage, pride, temperance and justice and devotes a chapter to each.  While each chapter is deceptively easy to read and understand, I need to reread some of the chapters in order to do Mr Young’s thoughts justice.  I’m not good at practicing temperance when it comes to reading.  This is one of the virtues I need to practice.

‘Reading requires some quantum of autonomy: no-one compels me to envisage their words.’

This is not a long book, and it is possible to read it in one sitting.  But I think that doing so rather defeats the purpose.  Better to read a chapter a day, and think about it both consciously and subconsciously.  Reading this book has prompted me to think about my own reading habits, about why I choose to read particular books and avoid some others.  It’s also made me think that continuing to read some books (just because I’ve started them and have difficulty not finishing everything I start) is not, perhaps, the best use of the balance of my reading life.

Of course, I take great comfort from the following quote, and know that my bibliophile friends will as well:

‘Studies suggest that a lifetime’s reading, along with company and exercise, can lessen dementia risk.’

Yes, reading is both an acquired skill and an art.  I would be lost without it.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith