Arnold Bennett essay On Useful Reading contains some important points regarding the business of reading and its bearing on life. Many readers read books without having an idea of making use of the knowledge acquired through reading in their day-to-day life. The author seems to be of the pinion that such reading is pointless and a waste. Study is not an end but a means. It presupposed total involvement of a disciplined mind and its purpose is enrichment of life.
The author begins the essay in an informal way and with an anecdote. Once upon a time a man bought a book on carpentry and began studying it diligently an regularly. Items of furniture in his house were in a damaged condition. Most of it was rendered unusable. They were in need of immediate repair and mending.
Some friends of the man suggested to him to repair the damaged furniture himself. They said that he could do so by applying the principles and procedures laid down in the carpentry manual that he had been reading so diligently. The man reacted to the suggestion saying that he was reading the manual as a student only end not for mending furniture himself. His friends concluded that through he was a diligent reader, he was a hopeless fool.
The anecdote goes to prove that there is no virtue in study by itself. Study is not an end, but it is a means. The author is convinced that most readers ignore the original purpose of reading. A man who diligently reads a book and does nothing with it is a fool. The sole object of reading a book is that something definite comes out of it. Every book whether history, or ethics, or biography, or poetry, or fiction is a piece of life and has its effect on the reader.
Book should be read for pleasure, there is no doubt but it is not the only purpose positive way. When one finishes reading a book one feels a change brought over him; whatever the quality of the change. It brings about a change in the outlook of the reader. Reading a book not only expands the horizons of experience of the reader but also makes him wise, a man of feeling, kindness and sympathy. Above all it gives him joy.
Very few people will say that they cannot translate literature into life. In other words, they cannot utilize the effect of literature on them in practical life. If a person does not feel an impact after reading a masterpiece he must be intellectually idle or a victim of self-deception. When someone is invited to meet a great writer he will prepare himself thoroughly to handle the occasion. He will be full of kind of sensation.
One cannot and should not read a book with just a casual and easy air. We often read a book with casualness, stillness and heaviness. We don’t give it our full attention in a concentrated form. In that case we do not feel we are affected by reading a book. We should devote our whole mind, not a part of it, to reading.
It is possible for a reader to possess, coordinate and assimilate all the ideas of a book only when we stop to reflect calmly and seriously on the sensations it has given us.
A single reading of a book does not enable us to grasp the full import of the author’s message. A great book has to be read at least twice in order to see its merits and excellences.
Reading a classic usefully is in a way a difficult task. One must open a great book with a firmness of mind and spirit and read it like this till the end. One should tire oneself in the effort. After finishing the book one should pause to ponder over the ideas and sensations transmitted to the reader. Then it should be read once again, at least. It is by this process that a book enters into one’s being and becomes a part of it. By this way, the book will certainly reappear in one’s life.