Commonplace

“Professional readers–critics, historians, and other who read books for a living or for academic credit–have a bad reputation with ordinary readers, those who read for pleasure or for any other reason or whim that suits them. In some measure we deserve it. In our anxiety to tell the complex truths of literature we often neglect or deny the simple ones, and, while it is true that books do for readers many complicated things that go beyond conscious desire, they also perform straighforward and mundane tasks–providing a pastime, giving information and worldly guidance, telling stories, offering companionship and conversation as a kind of human substitute, amusing or distracting us, insulating us not only from other activity but also from introspection, boredom, and nothingness. Some of these functions bother critics more than others. Ideas we tolerate more readily than feelings, though feelings can be forgiven, too, as long as they are general enough or in the service of some higher good and not too pragmatic. Going to novels to learn about human nature seems to be acceptable, but not going to them for simple information. The more abstract the reason for reading , the better; the functions of reading that come closest to the practical seem the most threatening to our enterprise. Or such at least is the position we most often espouse, leaving quietly aside all the half-known, accidental, and downright selfish reasons that bring tens of thousands of readers every year to novels for reasons that neither authors nor critics are flattered by.”

J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels, p. 90.

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