Lately I've been finding myself a bit interested in Virginia Woolf. She keeps popping up in (seemingly) unrelated things I'm reading (last week it was a book for high schoolers on British economist John Maynard Keynes that I was indexing), so recently I got a book of her Collected Essays (vol. 2) from the library. And that's where I found this:
"But still we have our responsibilities as readers and even our importance. The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work. An influence is created which tells upon them even if it never finds its way into print. And that influence, if it were well instructed, vigorous and individual and sincere, might be of great value now when criticism is necessarily in abeyance..."
She goes on to explain how readers, even more than reviewers, have a kind of responsibility to keep reading and to form thoughts about reading. But I wish more reviewers of all sorts would take her words to heart and review books in a way that is "vigorous and individual and sincere." Actually, that's not a bad mantra for trying to live one's life, I would think.
But she was barely done with that gem before she launched into this one: "I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards--their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble--the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, 'Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.'"
Both quotes are from an essay titled "How Should One Read a Book." Both make me want to read more Virginia Woolf. Both give reading its proper due. "They have loved reading." Says it all, really, doesn't it?