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The Common Reader

Several years ago, in an attempt to stumble towards an adequate definition of education, I decided to jot down the characteristics of educated persons as they presented themselves to me in daily life. I got through forty-two and then, doubtless because something else attracted my attention, stopped doing it. The thirty-sixth entry on my list was this:

An educated person will aspire to be, before becoming any other kind of reader, a common
reader of the sort delineated by Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf, as memorialized in
Johnson's famous comment: "I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for, by the common
sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtlety and
dogmatism of learning, must finally be decided all claim to poetical honours."

Common readers with common sense, uncorrupted by specialized perspectives, are needed now more than Johnson might have been able to imagine. The prospect of getting them, though, in significant numbers, doesn't seem bright. I wonder why not. I can't believe that people are actually as busy as they are commonly said to be.

We would like to hear from readers of the HSC about their sense of reading as it now exists in our country. Is it vital? Is it flourishing? Is it important? Or, is it simply fading away? Anyone who will hold forth on this topic will be published in full -- with our gratitude.



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