The author, Joseph Brodsky, of this passage taken from “How to Read a Book” from On Grief and Reason, presents the reader with an enigmatic literature dilemma that individuals face in determining what they should read. This dilemma questions how to manage all the literature material that is presented continuously and how to decide what one should read, as there is limited time of one existence.
This passage has an educative, informative, and didactic tone to present this dilemma, as it tries to inform and teach the reader about the controversial enigma about literature, and presenting some solutions to the problem, however ending in the beginning. From the beginning of the first paragraph he presents two kinds of antithesis ideas. As the first sentence says, “Since we are all moribund, and since reading books is time-consuming, we must devise a system that allows us a semblance of economy. ” The first idea is that the task of reading is a time consuming one.
The other idea is that as human being, we have limited time of existence, therefore limited time of reading. Here the author is presenting one part of the dilemma, of how to manage what to read, as there is limited time. For the author, in the end this management of reading, is only done because human want to learn, for this reason the need, as the author says, “for concision, condensation fusion – for the work that brings human predicament, in all its diversity, into its sharpest possible focus; in other words, the need for a shortcut. The author embraces an extended metaphor for the search of a shortcut, and marks it as “some compass in the ocean of available printed matter”. Nevertheless, Brodsky suggests that the role for the compass is “played by literary criticism, by reviewers”. The author goes on by explaining the trouble of the reviewers` purposes.
It says that the reviewer can be someone that does not knows much and is not that smarter that ourselves, a “hack”, someone that has strong bias one certain subjects, or simply be influence by the publishing industry, or someone with a great literary talent that will make the review even more appealing and interesting than the book itself. The author mentions one of the great literature influences, Jorge Luis Borges, supporting his point that at the end “you may end up reading reviews rather than the books themselves”. Joseph Brodsky expands his metaphor of the compass in the third paragraph.
He does this by interpreting the reader as a castaway adrift in a literary ocean, “with pages and pages rustling in every direction, clinging to a raft whose ability to stay afloat you are not so sure of. ” The author then suggests an alternative solution for this particular dilemma. He suggest that the reader could “develop your own taste, to build your own compass, to familiarize yourself, as it were, with particular stars and constellations – dim or bright but always remote. ” However, he then establishes that this process consumes a lot of time and concluding that at the end this is not a respectable idea.
He then proposes another alternative solution, implying that is kind of similar than the first one, that to rely on a “friends advice”, and find something that is appealing. However, the author continues to find a downside by saying that it is a “poor insurance, for the ocean of available literature swells and widens constantly. ” At the end of the passage the author has just come to the same question of what to do, and just leaves something to thing about. The passage end with rhetorical questions “So where is one’s terra firma, even it may be but an uninhabitable island? Where is our good man Friday, let alone a Cheetah? This conclusion of the passage can be interpreted that at the end there is no answer. Therefore at the end I think the author did not accomplish what was intended of providing a solution for the dilemma that individuals face in determining what they should read, as the author does not presents a clear and direst answer to the problem. Nevertheless, at the end the author, alludes to the castaway protagonist in Daniel Dafoe’s novel Robinson Cuisses’ “man Friday” and to the Tarzan’s chimpanzee companion Cheetah. Both of these allusions strongly support the idea of a guidance, which this dilemma does not have to obtain the answer.
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