Monday, February 2, 2009

Am I a Good Reader??

I have mixed feelings about the "Good Readers and Good Writers" piece by Nabokov. He makes some great points about the art of writing and how a "major author" creates literature. On the other hand, when he talks about how to be a good reader, I am somewhat put off by his snarky attitude.
It's weird because in some instances I agree with his opinion. For example, when he talks about rereading a book. Nine times out of ten I will enjoy and appreciate a literary work more the second or third time I read it. The first time I read something I am trying to get all the facts and I'm just getting accustomed to the author's style of writing. But with each subsequent reading, I already know "the story" and I am able to look beyond it to find the book's true meaning and message.
While I agree with Nabokov that readers get more out of literature when they become rereaders, I don't agree with his "rules" for being a good reader, or as he says, a "major reader." Out of his list of ten definitions for a good reader, I just so happened to choose the "correct" four definitions, that a reader should have imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense. While I agree that these four things are important to being a good reader, or even just an average reader, I don't agree that if one possesses any of the six other traits that he or she is a bad reader.
Of these six traits, Nabokov denounces one in particular: that the reader may identify with a character. I was blown away when he said the the worst thing a reader can do is identify himself with a character in the book. If anything, I think it lends itself more to a thorough understanding of the work. People gain more perspective from something, whether it is a book, movie, song, TV show, etc., when they can relate to it. And they can have a completely different "experience" with a work of literature than someone who cannot personally relate to the material. I am sure that pedophiles the world over got something entirely different out of Lolita than I did. Personal experience is not something that you can just push out of your mind when approaching a book, as Nabokov suggests. 
All in all, I enjoyed reading Nabokov's opinion of a "good reader," and I can appreciate his concern for the "correct" understanding and comprehension of literature, according to what he believes. But, authors should be receptive of readers finding alternative meaning in their work.

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