In a recent letter (“Critically Reading,” Feb. 16), Stephen Marsh ’13 argues that all reading is criticism, and a truly uncritical attitude toward a book is hence impossible, pace Matthew Shaffer in a recent column (“A critical education,” Feb. 12). This stance appears to merely redefine “criticism” to the point where it no longer functions as a useful idea. Granted, a piece of literature can admit diverse interpretations. It does not follow that all interpretive reading (which is to say, all reading of any worth) is sufficiently complex and reasoned to be called critical.
Even if we agree with Marsh on the vocabulary, there still remains the enormous difference between reading a book cerebrally, in a conscious effort to exhaust its ideas and discover the author’s techniques, and reading it just to be told a story, the way our ancestors read the Bible, the way we used to read “Harry Potter” and “ The Chronicles of Narnia,” and the way some of us still watch movies. As Shaffer pointed out, it comes down to what we think of ourselves: whether we think we are wiser than the best of the books we read or whether we suspect they have something to teach us about the great unteachable, life.
The writer is a freshman in Trumbull College.