We all read for lots of different reasons, but this collection of blog posts from the New York Times brings together the overall experience of being a reader and how we can get the best out of the things we choose to read. Parks asks us to read with a ‘pen in hand’ to notate and analyse a text and the aims of the writer as we go. While this is probably unlikely while reading on the beach, simply relaxing and being entertained by a book, the art of being an active reader while looking at specialist text and more ‘serious’ literature certainly has a lot to offer.

This collection of essays is varied and quite wide ranging. Translation is Park’s specialism, particularly English/Italian, and anyone interested in this topic will find heaps of useful information. I felt I learned a lot even though I’ve never actually done any but others who know more will get more from it I’m sure. This was probably my least favourite bit as I can connect more with the reading and writing ideas, but it was still really interesting and made me more aware of what a good translator does.

Several authors come up repeatedly in the examples and ideas, including Dickens, Joyce and Knausgaard, which helped illustrate the ideas but may seem off putting if you haven’t read them. I didn’t find this affected the reading of the book at all and think the non-reader of these authors would manage fine; it certainly helps to have some knowledge of literature to read these through. They are all fairly short and easy to get into; you can pick up and put down this collection with ease. My personal favourite bits were when I agreed with the author – anyone who has had to write an academic essay with the Harvard referencing system will certainly join me and the author in the idea that this should be scrapped in the age of the internet, and I liked the idea that you can demand a lot more from authors than I previously thought through analysing lazy description and things that simply just don’t make sense. Time spent reading this inspired me to be more critical and also to continually improve my own writing.

Helen Corton 4/4

Pen in Hand: Reading, Rereading and Other Mysteries by Tim Parks
Alma Books Ltd 9781846884573 hbk May 2019