What are the main points in Virginia Woolf's book The Common Reader and her final essay in the book "How One Should Read a Book"? 

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the introduction to her book of literary criticism titled The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf states her own literary philosophy concerning the common reader. She defines the common reader as one who is not as educated and intelligent as the scholar; the common reader is instead one who is only reading for the purpose of pleasure, not scholarship. She defines herself as the common reader and argues that the common reader should be lauded for the reader's creativity. She defines the reader as creative because the common reader actively gathers up "whatever odds and ends he can come by" to piece together, to create, for himself, a whole that makes sense to him. In creating his whole, he pieces together bits of information to create understandings of the world that make sense to him, such as an understanding of a person, an understanding of history, or to create his own theory. What's more, he never ceases to read and never ceases to piece together bits of information to create and recreate his understanding, as we see in her following sentences:

[The common reader] is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole--a portrait of man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing. He never ceases, as he reads, to run up some rickety and ramshackle fabric which shall give him the temporary satisfaction of looking sufficiently like the real object to allow of affection, laughter, and argument.

Hence, one of her main points is that the common reader is a creative reader. A second main point is that the creative reader creates an original understanding of the world, and this understanding should not be discounted simply due to lack of education or intelligence; this understanding is valuable.

In the book, in the final essay titled "How One Should Read a Book," she further argues for the importance of the common reader's independence. In the opening paragraph, Woolf states, "The only advice indeed that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions." Hence, even in this final essay she continues to argue that it is important for the majority of readers in this world, who are the common readers, to be uninfluenced by the views of scholarship, by "right thinking." Only by remaining independent creative thinkers will common readers continue to be able to make valuable, creative contributions to thought in the world.

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