A reader's talent

I am currently reading Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas (translated by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean). I’ve been struck by a passage in which the protagonist, publisher Samuel Riba, reflects on the kind of reader he values:

He believes that if a talent is demanded of a literary publisher or a writer, it must also be demanded of a reader. Because we mustn’t deceive ourselves; on the journey of reading we often travel through difficult terrains that demand a capacity for intelligent emotion, a desire to understand the other, and to approach a language distinct from the one of our daily tyrannies. As Vilém Vok says, it’s not so simple to feel the world as Kafka felt it, a world in which movement is denied and it becomes impossible even to go from one village to the next. The same skills needed for writing are needed for reading. Writers fail readers, but it also happens the other way around and readers fail writers when all they ask of them is confirmation that the world is how they see it…

This is the kind of reader I hope that I can be; certainly I feel more rewarded – more alive, even – when I’m reading in the kind of engaged, thoughtful way that Vila-Matas describes. Judiciously selecting books, and sharing my thoughts about them on this blog and elsewhere, continue to help me develop  as a reader.


  1. Definitely. We must read thoughtfully – and then the best sort of books, those which absorb you so much you live them, will really engage us and resonate with us.

  2. Such a great book and writer that statement so true

  3. When someone complained to Toni Morrison that her books were hard to read,she responded with a question, “Why should reading be easy?”

  4. A very interesting point. I will have to muse more on that!

  5. Thanks for the comments, folks. I like that Toni Morrison quote.

  6. Love the quote from Toni Morrison. Equally though i don’t enjoy reading something where the author appears to be showing off how clever they are.

    • Personally, I’m wary of judging a book that way – I’ve read too many books where the author might seem to have been ‘showing off’, that actually turned out to be favourites.

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