The ideal reader

I came across this idea in the introduction to an anthology of short stories. The stories themselves were hit-or-miss, but the introduction was terrific. In it, Zadie Smith writes:
Ideal reading is aspirational, like dating. It happens that I am E. M. Forster’s ideal reader, but I would much prefer to be Gustave Flaubert’s or William Gaddis’s or Franz Kafka’s or Borges’s. But early on Forster and I saw how we suited, how we fit, how we felt comfortable (too much so?) in each other’s company. I am Forster’s ideal reader because, I think, nothing that he left on the page escapes me. Rightly or wrongly, I feel I get all his jokes and appreciate his nuances, that I am as hurt by his flaws as I am by my own, and as pleased when he is great as I would be if I did something great. . . . You might know three or four writers like this in your life, and likely as not, you will meet them when you are very young. Understand: They are not the writers you most respect, most envy, or even most enjoy. They are the ones you know.
Well, I confess, I am Robertson Davies’ ideal reader, and that passage describes my relationship with him perfectly. I can’t help it. He wrote the Deptford, Salterton and Cornish trilogies for me.

Who are you the ideal reader for?


  • Great question!

    For me, I think, it would be Carol Shields. So much of her work resonates deeply with me, and I will be revisiting some of the books again as I get older. Her books are filled with profound, simply stated observations about middle age that I'm sure will affect me differently when I reach that stage of life.

    posted by Blogger Suzanne on 1:56 PM  

  • Off the top of my head, I'd have to say David Sedaris. I recognize all of his weaknesses and inadequacies as being my own. I just wish I were funny like he is.

    I'd have to think to dredge up the others that I just know are in there.

    And yes, what a great question!

    posted by Blogger Diana on 10:21 AM  

  • So far it has to be Jonathan Franzen. As I read The Corrections I kept giving him mental thank yous for writing this or that sentence that I've always wanted to write but never could quite express that well.

    Alternatively, my darker side is clearly George Saunders' ideal reader. His cynicism and use of degraded (not degrading!) speech resonate with my sense of where the world is going.

    But I'm still young in my reading life. I suspect I'll find better suitors as time goes on.

    posted by Blogger doulicia on 10:30 AM  

  • Ah, what an excellent question!

    I am the ideal reader for Stephen R. Lawhead. He wrote the Pendragon Series just for me, for the time that I wish I was born in. Alas, I was born in this time, so can do nothing but read of what my life could have been like.

    My whole life today for a week then. . . .

    posted by Blogger Christa on 10:51 AM  

  • Bess Streeter Aldrich, Isaiah, and Janice Holt Giles.

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 1:53 PM