The Common Reader

This site is titled "The Common Maker" in reference to Dr. Samuel Johnson's concept of a common reader. The common reader is the everyday reader. They read, as Virginia Woolf puts it, in rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books. Woolf goes on:

The common reader, as Dr. Johnson implies, differs from the critic and the scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he 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 a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing.
And it is this humble instinct towards creation that matters. Marc Andreesen put it well when he shouted "It is time to build". But we must not forget our place: the common reader, is by no means a great critic, scholar or writer, nor the common maker a great inventor per se. The common maker "makes do with what they have", they are not ostentatious in their creations. If the common reader sits in rooms full of books not labeled libraries, then the common maker sits in rooms full of electronics, odd parts, wires, and batteries, too humble to be called laboratories.

But do we shun greatness by identifying with this commonplace reader? Are we throwing in the towel, setting our standards far too low? We might believe ourselves incapable of great things. And we might begin to sound like the Speaker from T.S Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, constantly lamenting his inadequacies:

        No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
        Am an attendant lord, one that will do
        To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
        Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
        Deferential, glad to be of use,
        Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
        Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
        At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
        Almost, at times, the Fool.

But the difference between this poor speaker and our common reader is the reader’s *courage* to act. Not intimidated by over-analysis, he strives and strives, puts words on the page, reads as deeply as he is able: he, at least, is in the arena.

This ideal, clear-minded courage is why Woolf named her collection of essays after this reader. And this quality is why Dr. Johnson describes the common reader as the true inheritors of the whole literary tradition.

. . . I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours.

To be a common maker or a common reader is to put your head down and work. And if Dr. Johnson is correct, that very well might lead to great things.