I found this quote in one of my books recently - don't ask me which one because I am not the person who makes notes, even when she knows she will need them and curse herself at a future date. Internet to the rescue!
Few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him. Be his fellow-worker and accomplice. If you hang back, and reserve and criticize at first, you are preventing yourself from getting the fullest possible value from what you read. But if you open your mind as widely as possible, then signs and hints of almost imperceptible fineness, from the twist and turn of the first sentences, will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike any other. Steep yourself in this, acquaint yourself with this and soon you will find that your author is giving you, or attempting to give you, something far more definite.
2 things came immediately to my mind when I read this: The first is that this is how I read and possibly why I end up being 'soft' when I rate and review. I open most books with few or no expectations and an abundance of optimism. When I start a book irritated or cranky, it's a safe bet my review is going to be pretty critical and nit-picky. There's also an element of pride, or maybe denial; if I finish a book and it's not all it could be, finding the high notes helps me rationalise the hours spent reading it. As we all pretty much agree, reading books we don't like is time wasted; if I can find and focus on strengths in my reads, I haven't wasted my time.
The second thing that came to mind is, I need to hunt down this essay and read it in its entirety, and investigate Woolf's other non-fiction work. I don't buy everything Woolf is selling in this quote, but it's just a small excerpt, and I want to read the whole thing before I make objections.
What do you guys think about Woolf's take on reading?