The premise of the book Reading and Criticism by Raymond Williams is to encourage ‘intelligent reading’, which according to the author is to read with an open, attentive mind, and to also focus on the use of language. Well… he might have been proud of GoodReads then, since most of my GR friends read intelligently judging by their interests and their reviews. But let’s face facts, those who read intelligently are a small school of fish in the vast ocean, and Williams doesn’t shy away from expressing the drivel that most people read. In fact, the opening chapter analyzes some extracts of advertisements to show the level to which language is manipulated in order to serve a purpose. He then quickly uses this to express the same sentiments in news writing and how all this kind of quick, easy reading perpetuates commercial writing (aka ‘entertainment’ fiction). There’s a lot of merit to his arguments and his down-to-earth analysis, even though this book was published in 1950.
What I could mostly appreciate is the way he encourages readers to read analytically. It’s not academia and it doesn’t require skills that a regular reader can’t acquire. Chapter after chapter, he demonstrates how readers can make better sense of prose and verse by comparing extracts throughout with what he judges as ‘good’ writing and ‘mediocre’ writing – and I’m inclined to agree with his assessments here. It’s an easy book in the sense that technical jargon is not introduced. Instead, Williams relies on the ‘feel’ of language and what works, or not. This makes the book genuine in that it is indeed for readers seeking to learn how to read more critically, rather than it be a treatise on reading like some books end up being.
Every improvement in reading – the growth of awareness and flexibility and honesty – represents an advance similar, in its smaller degree, to the advance made by the work of a creative artist. For it, too, extends the boundaries of human consciousness and creates again the most permanent of human values. That is why it is a task important in itself, just as literature is important for its own sake. It is an importance that needs no apology, but rather allegiance and application.
I would love to see someone publish a book like this today to cover the same topic discussing contemporary fiction, and why the Mtv kids that do actually read shouldn’t think YA is the only form of fiction out there. It’s my only qualm with this book, that a British writer from a British university references the same classics (Lawrence, Conrad, Orwell…), although kudos that Williams references what was then contemporary in 1950.