The Bad Reader

The bad reader begins to read a story called “The Bad Reader” and thinks at first that the story will be about a fictional character called “the bad reader.” Only after the first sentence does the bad reader consider that the story may actually be aimed squarely at the reader who is, even now, reading these words. In what sense can the reader be considered bad? Rather, what reader is not sometimes the bad reader?
The bad reader can think of at least one example of having been bad, of having seen “It was hot Tuesday” when the sentence actually read “It was not Tuesday.” The bad reader remembers having missed the clue that everyone else seems to have detected in the detective story. Or perhaps the bad reader can think of no instances of bad reading, in which case the reader has a poor memory or a weak imagination. There is more than one way to be a bad reader.
At this point in the story, the bad reader begins to resent the writer. Surely there is some principle of writing that this story violates. A writer who insults the reader must be a fool. Insults are not what readers want. A bad reader, one who isn’t smart enough to detect the purpose of the story, might get quite worked up about being insulted. The bad reader might feel that the story called “The Bad Reader” is not a story at all but an act of revenge. The bad reader might think that the lazy writer is attacking the reader instead of doing the hard work of writing a real story.
Actually, the bad reader is just as likely to think that the story is clever. That’s how bad the bad reader is. That’s how badly the bad reader can miss the point.
Near the end, the bad reader comes to a reassuring sentence: “The bad reader reads in the smallest room of the house.” Well, who does not read in the smallest room of the house? But the bad reader thinks, I am not the bad reader portrayed in this story. I read in other rooms as well!
The bad reader feels a sense of assurance. A false sense.
The bad reader, having finished reading the story, will not give it another thought. Or, worse, will keep thinking about the story without teasing out its true and subtle meaning.

© Bruce Holland Rogers


One Response to “The Bad Reader”

  1. jorge vaz nande on Agosto 29th, 2008 23:41


«Tenho a suspeita de que a espécie humana - a única - está prestes a extinguir-se e que a Biblioteca perdurará: iluminada, solitária, infinita, perfeitamente imóvel, armada de volumes preciosos, inútil, incorruptível, secreta» Jorge Luis Borges