Friday Feature: On The Ideal Reader

 Ideal Reader BW1


The ideal reader is the writer just before the words come together on the page.
The ideal reader exists in the moment that precedes the moment of creation.
The ideal reader does not reconstruct a story: he recreates it.
The ideal reader does not follow a story: he partakes of it.
A famous children’s book programme on the BBC always started with the host asking: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.” The ideal reader is also the ideal sitter.
Depictions of St Jerome show him poised over his translation of the Bible, listening to the word of God. The ideal reader must learn how to listen.

The ideal reader is the translator. He is able to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down to the marrow, follow each artery and each vein and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal reader is not a taxidermist.
For the ideal reader all devices are familiar.
For the ideal reader all jokes are new.

“One must be an inventor to read well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The ideal reader has an unlimited capacity for oblivion. He can dismiss from his memory the knowledge that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are one and the same person, that Julien Sorel will have his head cut off, that the name of the murderer of Roger Ackroyd is So-and-so.
The ideal reader has no interest in the writings of Brett Easton Ellis.
The ideal reader knows what the writer only intuits.
The ideal reader subverts the text. The ideal reader does not take the writer’s word for granted.
The ideal reader is a cumulative reader: every time he reads a book he adds a new layer of memory to the narrative.
Every ideal reader is an associative reader. He reads as if all books were the work of one ageless and prolific author.
The ideal reader cannot put his knowledge into words.
Upon closing his book, the ideal reader feels that, had he not read it, the world would be poorer.

The ideal reader has a wicked sense of humour.
The ideal reader never counts his books.
The ideal reader is both generous and greedy.
The ideal reader reads all literature as if it were anonymous.
The ideal reader enjoys using a dictionary.
The ideal reader judges a book by its cover.
Reading a book from centuries ago, the ideal reader feels immortal.

Paolo and Francesca were not ideal readers, since they confess to Dante that after their first kiss, they read no more. Ideal readers would
have kissed and then read on. One love does not exclude the other.
The ideal reader doesn’t know he is the ideal reader until he has reached the end of the book.

The ideal reader shares the ethics of Don Quixote, the longing of Madame Bovary, the lust of the Wife of Bath, the adventurous spirit of Ulysses, the mettle of Holden Caufield, at least for the space of the story.
The ideal reader treads the beaten path. “A good reader, major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” Vladimir Nabokov.
The ideal reader is polytheistic.
The ideal reader holds, for a book, the promise of resurrection.
Robinson Crusoe is not an ideal reader. He reads the Bible to find answers. An ideal reader reads to find questions.
Every book, good or bad, has its ideal reader.
For the ideal reader, every book reads, to a certain degree, as his own autobiography.
The ideal reader has no precise nationality.

Sometimes, a writer must wait several centuries to find his ideal reader. It took Blake one hundred and fifty years to find Northrop Frye.
Stendhal’s ideal reader: “I write for barely a hundred readers, for unhappy, amiable, charming beings, never moral or hypocritical, whom I would like to please; I know barely one or two.”

The ideal reader has known unhappiness.
Ideal readers change with age. The fourteen-year-old ideal reader of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems is no longer its ideal reader at thirty.
Experience tarnishes certain readings.
Pinochet, who banned Don Quixote because he thought it advocated civil disobedience, was that book’s ideal reader.

The ideal reader never exhausts the book’s geography.
The ideal reader must be willing, not only to suspend disbelief, but to embrace a new faith.
The ideal reader never thinks: “If only…”
Writing on the margins is a sign of the ideal reader.
The ideal reader proselytizes.
The ideal reader is guiltlessly whimsical.
The ideal reader is capable of falling in love with one of the book’s characters.
The ideal reader is not concerned with anachronism, documentary truth, historical accuracy, topographical exactness. The ideal reader is not an archeologist.
The ideal reader is a ruthless enforcer of the rules and regulations that each book creates for itself.

“There are three kinds of readers: one, who enjoys without judging; a third, who judges without enjoying; another in the middle, who judges while enjoying and enjoys while judging. The last class truly reproduces a work of art anew; its members are not numerous.”
Goethe, in a letter to Johann Friedrich Rochlitz.

The readers who committed suicide after reading Werther were not ideal but merely sentimental readers.
Ideal readers are seldom sentimental.
The ideal reader wishes both to get to the end of the book and to know that the book will never end.
The ideal reader is never impatient.
The ideal reader is not concerned with genres.
The ideal reader is (or appears to be) more intelligent than the writer; the ideal reader does not hold this against him.

There comes a time when every reader considers himself to be the ideal reader.
Good intentions are not enough to produce an ideal reader.

The Marquis de Sade: “I only write for those capable of understanding me, and these will read me with no danger.”
The Marquis de Sade is wrong: the ideal reader is always in danger.

The ideal reader is a novel’s main character.
Paul Valéry: “A literary ideal: finally to know not to fill the page with anything except ‘the reader’.”

The ideal reader is someone the writer would not mind spending an evening with, over a glass of wine.
An ideal reader should not be confused with a virtual reader.
A writer is never his own ideal reader.

Literature depends, not on ideal readers, but merely on good enough readers.


The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.

– G.K. Chesterton

Well, an ideal reader I certainly am not (and probably am off the mark by quite a long mile, too!). And while I have not made any proper reading resolutions for this new year, somehow I feel really good about it. The new reading year, that is. 

Something tells me, this might be my best year yet (books and reading-wise)! I have so many good books sitting on the shelves that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. I can feel my reading momentum slowly picking up, at last. It feels good.

And oh, I think I’ll just settle for being the ‘good enough reader’……. for now. 😉    

The not-so-new “new acquisitions”…..

I just checked, the last ‘new acquisitions’ post I had put up was in May earlier this year. This will probably give the impression that I have been on ‘good behaviour’ and was contented with reading happily from my stacks of TBR on the shelves. This couldn’t be further from the truth than what the actual scenario is.

Truth is, I have been bad. I have been greedy and covetously acquiring more books than I could ever possibly finish reading in this lifetime. And yet I am not doing anything to stop the books from sneaking in. Why, I wonder? It is probably a disease. And I reckon it’s one that I can never be fully cured of. It could also be that I am probably a collector first, and only a reader second. Whatever the case may be, one cannot somehow also discount the fact that the books themselves are often too good to resist!

And so, without much resistance, these somehow found their way to my shelves (or floor, more likely).

Leave the Letters Till We’re Dead – this sixth and final volume of Virginia Woolf’s collected letters will be the starting point for my on-going long-term ‘mission’ to collect all the other volumes of her letters (& diaries). And just in case you might be interested to know, I have managed to track down the first volume (The Flight of the Mind) and it’s already winging it’s way here even as I am writing this. If only my reading was as efficient as my buying…

The Mitfords : Letters Between Six Sisters – Actually, I already have the hardcover copy of this in a different edition but when I found this paperback edition going at a really unbeatable price during a sale, I just couldn’t leave it behind. My reasoning was that it would be much more convenient & comfortable to read this tome in paperback rather than hardback. Right?

Anyway, moving on….

The Library At Night (by Alberto Manguel)
This has been sitting on my wishlist for a long time now. “Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the “complete” libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought—the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest. Oral “memory libraries” kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never written—Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel’s mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.” Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Virginia Woolf’s Women (by Vanessa Curtis)
“This is the first biography to concentrate exclusively on Woolf’s close and inspirational friendships with the key women in her life, including the caregivers of her Victorian childhood who instilled in her a lifelong battle between creativity and convention: her taciturn sister, Vanessa Bell; enigmatic artist Dora Carrington; complex writer Katherine Mansfield; aristocratic novelist Vita Sackville-West; and riotous, militant composer Ethel Smyth.” 
This should be an interesting one.

The Trials of Radclyffe Hall (by Diana Souhami)
I have been wanting to read The Well Of Loneliness (the book on the theme of ‘sexual inversion’ that caused Hall to be put on trial under the Obscene Publications Act, back in 1928) for some time now. This would pair nicely with the reading of that, I think. “….. Brilliantly written, this biography is a fresh and irreverent insight into the lives of one of the most alluring and eccentric women of this century.”

Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontes (by Jude Morgan)
Got this at the same bargain books sales as The Mitfords. Have not heard of this title, nor read anything by the author prior to this. But the subject matter appealed to me (not to mention the price, as well) and so, I was game to try this. “From an obscure country parsonage came three extraordinary sisters, who defied the outward bleakness of their lives to create the most brilliant literary work of their time. Now, in an astonishingly daring novel by the acclaimed Jude Morgan, the genius of the haunted Brontës is revealed and the sisters are brought to full, resplendent life: Emily, who turned from the world to the greater temptations of the imagination; gentle Anne, who suffered the harshest perception of the stifling life forced upon her; and the brilliant, uncompromising, and tormented Charlotte, who longed for both love and independence, and learned their ultimate price.” Anyone here read this?

Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists (by Robert Hughes)
This is yet another writer that I was unfamiliar with but again, I found the subject matter highly appealing (as with the bargain price since it was at the same book sales) so into the basket it went. And I don’t think I will regret it. “This collection brings together over 90 essays, many of which have already appeared in major journals. Hughes considers the Masters, 19th-century art and artists, the Modernist spirit, American and European painters, and contemporary artists in prose that is historically informative, understandable, witty, and often opinionated. Perhaps most interesting is Hughes’s introduction, a recognition and partial analysis of New York City’s decline as the center of the art world. This well-written, thought-provoking collection will appeal to most who find art and the art world important and entertaining.” I do love a good collection of essays, so here’s hoping that they are. 

Down The Garden Path (by Beverley Nichols)
Although I am not one who is into gardening, somehow in recent years I find myself having a growing fascination for books that have gardens in their theme. This is probably the result from reading the blogs of so many of you ‘garden loving’ bloggers out there. I have always been curious about Nichols’s books, having read many good reviews of them. And I always thought that the titles to his books are such delightful ones ….. Merry Hall, Laughter on The Stairs, Sunlight on the Lawn, etc… Don’t they just seem to have the word “JOY” printed all over them? Really looking forward to reading this. 🙂

The Claudine Novels (by Colette)
Colette’s Claudine novels are another item off my long list of ‘anticipated reads’. And to get this complete set for the price of one (plus it’s in the edition with the cover I like, unlike the ugly but newer and easier to get edition here) is really quite a good deal! “Among the most autobiographical of Colette’s works, these four novels are dominated by the child-woman Claudine, whose strength, humor, and zest for living make her seem almost a symbol for the life force.”

That’s the stack for now. And that’s just the ones that came before my trip to Amsterdam and Paris last month. I haven’t yet share my little bounty from abroad with you, have I? :p

I think it’s better to leave that for another day. Meantime, I will need to have some reshuffling work done to clear things up abit, and make room for a little *cough* shipment that is due to arrive anytime now.

Like I said, it’s incurable.

Friday Feature : On The Ever-Growing Collection


Later in my home in Toronto, I put up bookshelves just about everywhere – in bedrooms and kitchen, corridors and bathroom. Even the covered porch had its shelves, so that my children complained that they felt they required a library card to enter their own home. But my books, in spite of any pride of place granted to them, were never satisfied. Detective Writing, housed in the basement bedroom, would suddenly outgrow the space allotted to it and would have to be moved upstairs to one of the corridor walls, displacing French Literature. French Literature would now have to be reluctantly divided into Literature of Quebec, Literature of France and Literature of Other Francophone Countries. I found it highly irritating to have Aime Cesaire, for instance, separated from his friends Eluard and Breton, and to be forced to exile Louis Hemon’s Maria Chapdelaine (Quebec’s national romantic epic) into the company of books by Huysmans and Hugo, just because Hemon happened to have been born in Brittanny and I have no room left in the Quebecois section.

Old books that we have known but not possessed cross our path and invite themselves over. New books try to seduce us daily with tempting titles and tantalizing covers. Families beg to be united: volume XVIII of the Complete Works of Lope de Vega is announced in a catalogue, calling to the other seventeen that sit barely leafed through, on my shelf. How fortunate for Captain Nemo to be able to say, during his twenty-thousand league journey under the sea, that “the world ended for me the day when my Nautilus sank underwater for the first time.  On that day, I bought my last volumes , my last pamphlets, my last periodicals, and since then, it is for me as if humanity no longer thought nor wrote a single word”. But for readers like myself, there are no “last” purchases on this side of the grave.

Alberto Manguel, “The Library at Night”


The will-power necessary to get rid of books must be maintained at all costs. Even if one buys on a modest scale – say, one book a day on an average – they fill room after room with the inevitability of the rising tide. I once visited a house in Blackheath after its owner had died. It was solid books. Shelves had been abandoned years before; in every room narrow lanes ran between books stacked from floor to ceiling, ninety per cent of them utterly inaccessible. In one of the bedrooms there was a narrow space two feet wide round the bed, and there the owner had died, almost entombed in print. This macabre glimpse of the ultimate excesses of bibliomania has always been a warning.

A.N.L. Munby, ‘Floreat bibliomania’ (1952)

Much as most of us will agree with Manguel’s conviction that “there are no last purchases on this side of the grave” when it comes to books, I think it will also do us good to take heed of A.N.L. Munby’s reminder of what unchecked excesses of bibliomania can lead up to. Indeed, the will-power to be willing to get rid of (at least some of) our books, must be maintained at all cost.

How ruthless are you, when it comes to culling your books?

Friday Feature : On The Books We Travel With


“All tourists cherish an illusion, of which no amount of experience can ever completely cure them; they imagine that they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading. They see themselves, at the end of a day’s sightseeing or motoring, or while they are sitting in the train, studiously turning over the pages of all the vast and serious works which, at ordinary seasons, they never find time to read. They start for a fortnight’s tour in France, taking with them The Critique of Pure Reason, Appearance and Reality, the complete works of Dante, and the Golden Bough. They come home to make the discovery that they have read something less than half a chapter of the Golden Bough and the first fifty- two lines of the Inferno. But that does not prevent them from taking just as many books the next time they set out on their travels.

Long experience has taught me to reduce in some slight measure the dimension of my travelling library. But even now I am far too optismistic about my powers of reading while on a journey. Along with the books which I know it is possible to read, I still continue to put in a few impossible volumes in the pious hope that some day, somehow, they will get read. Thick tomes have travelled with me for thousands of kilometres across the face of Europe and have returned with their secrets unviolated.”

Aldous Huxley, ‘Books for the journey’ (1925)

I’m afraid I have to admit that I’m one of those incurable travellers with the cherished illusion that “….. they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading”  but ends up returning “….home to make the discovery that they have read something less than half a chapter….”. :p

However, I won’t be surprised that I’m not the only one here harbouring such illusions. 🙂 Which is probably why more and more readers are turning to e-readers as the ideal solution for being able to carry with them a whole library of works on their travels and yet be able to keep below the luggage limit. Then again, this might seem like we are bringing the whole village along with us on our travels instead of giving our special attention to the one companion or privilleged few, if we prefer, to share the journey with.  It just wouldn’t sound quite as romantic as saying it the way A. Taylor puts it, would it?

“Anita Brookner and I are going on holiday together to St. Andrews. A couple of years back I went with Geirge Eliot to Raasay but it was not a barrel of laughs; there’s still a bookmark in my disintegrating Penguin copy of Daniel Deronda at page 289, in the middle of the chapter called ‘Maidens Choosing’, signposting where we parted company.”

A. Taylor, The List, 22-29 August 1988

And of course, having our extensive (though invisible) choice of books stored in e-readers instead of carrying the actual tomes with us, would definitely not bring about the desired effect for the books to function as how Manguel’s cousin hopes for them to.

“A cousin of mine from Buenos Aires was deeply aware that books could function as a badge, a sign of alliance, and always chose a book to take on her travels with the same care with which she chose her handbag. She would not travel with Romain Rolland because she thought it made her look too prententious, or with Agatha Christie because it made her look too vulgar. Camus was appropriate for a short trip, Cronin for a long one; a detective story by Vera Caspary or Ellery Queen was acceptable for a weekend in the country; a Graham Greene novel was suitable for travelling by ship or plane.”

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (1996)


April Acquisitions

Towards the end of March, I received an email from one of my favourite online booksellers for new and used books saying that they have not ‘heard’ from me for a while and that they missed me. They also included a discount voucher code for 20% off any purchase of their used books. And so, with an offer like that, coupled with the fact that though I have not been buying, I certainly have been picking and piling up for myself quite a good load of books into the basket/ wishlist. It works as a kind of therapy for the withdrawal symptoms that come when I seem to have not been buying any books for a substantial period of time, although in this case it was barely more than a month (strange, but it sure did feel much longer than that). What can I say, I kinda ‘missed them’ too. :p

With the exception of the first five books at the top of the pile, the rest are used copies, including the two standing hardcovers which I am particularly excited about. 

Writers and Their Houses: Essays by Modern Writers – A Guide to the Writers’ Houses of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland edited by Kate Marsh.
This collection features a wide range of contemporary writers, discussing the homes, lives and work of their predecessors, looking at the environments where some of the finest works of British literature were produced. The essay writers include John Fowles, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Drabble, P.D. James, Seamus Heaney, Malcom Bradbury, A.N. Wilson, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian McEwan, Claire Tomalin, Peter Porter and Jenny Uglow. The reader is taken on a detailed tour through the work and homes of writers such as William Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter, James Joyce and Jane Austen. From lively social circles to places of retreat, the homes described here reveal unexpected facts about their occupant’s taste, habits and eccentricities.

Doesn’t that sound delicious? I am really looking forward to reading these essays and poring over the photographs in there (unfortunately though, the photos are all in black and white). This book will complement my copy of ‘A Reader’s Guide to Writers’ Britain’ by Sally Varlow very nicely, I think. 🙂

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel.
Another compilation of interlinked essays on the history of reading. Manguel’s set of essays ‘…. explains not only the ability of the Bible and the classics to speak to successive generations, but also clarifies the deeply personal appeal of any favorite book: It says what we need it to say, what we wish we could say for or about ourselves. Manguel’s urbane, unpretentious tone recalls that of a friend eager to share his knowledge and enthusiasm. His book, digressive, witty, surprising, is a pleasure.’ Can’t wait to have the pleasure of dipping into this one! 

A closer look at the paperbacks.

I absolutely love the cover of Paris In Mind (edited by Jennifer Lee). Next to being a major Anglophile, I have to admit I am a lover of all things Parisian, too. The city holds no end of fascination and appeal to me. “Paris is a moveable feast,” Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, and in this captivating anthology, American writers share their pleasures, obsessions, and quibbles with the great city and its denizens. Mark Twain celebrates the unbridled energy of the Can-Can. Sylvia Beach recalls the excitement of opening Shakespeare & Company on the Rue Dupuytren. David Sedaris praises Parisians for keeping quiet at the movies.”
Among the writers from which these excerpts, essays, letters and journals are taken from are James Baldwin, Sylvia Beach, Saul Bellow, T. S. Eliot, M.F.K. Fisher, Janet Flanner, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, Anaïs Nin, David Sedaris, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton & E. B. White.

Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Written with the French Revolution of 1848 as the backdrop, this is the story of how a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family finds her way to Paris and ends up forming the unlikeliest of relationships with her husband’s mistress. Bold and unconventional in its ideas, this novel is described as “at once an adventure story, a love story, and a novel of ideas, Summer Will Show is a brilliant reimagining of the possibilities of historical fiction.”

The classics.

Isn’t this another lovely cover? I fell in love with the cover of this latest Vintage edition of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden and felt that I must have it. I think this is just the perfect starting point for me to discover the charming world of Trollope’s Barsetshire chronicles. This is yet another significant Victorian novelist whom I managed to miss out on during my younger days. I intend to rectify that this year, and am thrilled to know that this is just the begining of a whole new series waiting to be savoured.

Wordsworth Classics have recently been re-issuing a combination of Virginia Woolf’s works in very affordable editions. I got my pre-ordered copy of The Years & Between The Acts from The Book Depository for only USD2.36, which I think is a steal! And it has quite a lovely piece of artwork for its cover too, aptly named The Bookworm. 🙂  

Virago Classics and my first Thirkell.

I have to say that I much prefer this VMC cover of Lettice Cooper’s The New House as compared to the plain (though elegant) grey cover of the Persephone edition.  Another writer whose works I have been looking forward to get acquainted with is Rose Macaulay. I remember reading a good review of Crewe Train some time back on one of the blogs, and has since been very interested to read it. After reading all the rave reviews for Angela Thirkell’s books on Claire’s blog, I just couldn’t resist adding The Brandons into the basket. Interestingly, it is also one of her series of novels that is set in Trollope’s Barsetshire. Guess I can look forward to spending quite abit of time with the some rather memorable characters from Barsetshire this year. 😉  

Having recently discovered Barbara Pym as one of my new favourite writers, I grabbed hold of two more of her goodies. Civil To Strangers and A Vey Private Eye : An Autobiography in Letters And Diaries. The former consists of a collection of materials that were unpublished during Pym’s lifetime, while the latter is as the title suggests, an autobiography in the form of Pym’s letters and diaries, two of my favourite formats in writing, by the way. 

Last pile of goodies in this stack is Elizabeth Bowen’s To The North, Catherine Hall’s debut novel Days of Grace (whch I am already midway through, and am enjoying it very much) and Katie Roiphe’s Uncommon Arrangements :Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1919-1939.

Love the vintage black and white cover of Bowen’s To The North and can’t wait to read it after all the glowing reviews from so many fellow bloggers out there.

Uncommon Arrangement, also promises to be an interesting read. Said to be : “Drawn in part from the private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals of the British literary community from 1910 to the Second World War, here are seven “marriages à la mode”—each rising to the challenge of intimate relations in more or less creative ways. Jane Wells, the wife of H.G., remained his rock, despite his decade-long relationship with Rebecca West (among others). Katherine Mansfield had an irresponsible, childlike romance with her husband, John Middleton Murry, that collapsed under the strain of real-life problems. Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin spent years in a “semidetached” marriage (he in America, she in England). Vanessa Bell maintained a complicated harmony with the painter Duncan Grant, whom she loved, and her husband, Clive. And her sister Virginia Woolf, herself no stranger to marital particularities, sustained a brilliant running commentary on the most intimate details of those around her.”

So, there you have it. My indulgences for the past month all laid bare here.
Has any one of these caught your eye (or attention) too, in particular? 😉