keen is our interest, to be living and not even holding the
volume in our hands. But the more exciting the book, the
more danger we run of over-reading. The symptoms are
familiar. Suddenly the book becomes dull as ditchwater and
heavy as lead. We yawn and stretch and cannot attend.
The highest flights of Shakespeare and Milton become
intolerable. And we say to ourselves—is Keats a fool or am
I?—a painful question, a question, moreover, that need
not be asked if we realized how great a part the art of not
reading plays in the art of reading. To be able to read books
without reading them, to skip and saunter, to suspend judg-
ment, to lounge and loaf down the alleys and bye-streets of
letters is the best way of rejuvenating one’s own creative
power. All biographies and memoirs, all the hybrid books 
which are largely made up of facts, serve to restore to us the
power of reading real books—that is to say, works of pure
imagination. That they serve also to impart knowledge and
to improve the mind is true and important, but if we are
considering how to read books for pleasure, not how to
provide an adequate pension for one’s widow, this other
property of theirs is even more valuable and important. But
here again one should know what one is after. One is after
rest, and fun, and oddity, and some stimulus to one’s own
jaded creative power. One has left one’s bare and angular
tower and is strolling along the street looking in at the open 
windows. After solitude and concentration, the open air,
the sight of other people absorbed in innumerable activities, 
comes upon us with an indescribable fascination.

The windows of the houses are open; the blinds are drawn
up. One can see the whole household without their knowing 
that they are being seen. One can see them sitting round the
dinner table, talking, reading, playing games. Sometimes
they seem to be quarrelling—but what about? Or they are 
laughing—but what is the joke? Down in the basement the
cook is reading a newspaper aloud, while the housemaid is 
making a piece of toast; in comes the kitchen maid and they