Telling someone who knows how to read how to read is a mug's game, as T. S. Eliot said of poetry writing. He presumably meant poetry writing requires a lot of swotting up. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “mug” is, or was, a slang term at Oxford for a student who studies a lot, a “grind.” “To mug” is “to get up (a subject) by hard study.” Eliot may also have meant that a poet is like a “mug” in the sense of being criminal, another (United States) meaning of the word. He notoriously said meaning in a poem is like the piece of meat the burglar gives to the watchdog so he can get inside the house. Teaching reading is a mug's game in both senses. You have to know a lot, all about tropes, for example, not to speak of history and literary history. Moreover, as these last two chapters will suggest, what you are teaching is by no means an innocent skill.
Teaching reading also seems unnecessary. If you can read, you can read. Who needs any more help? Just how someone gets from illiteracy to literacy or from basic literacy to being a “good reader” remains something of a mystery. A talent for irony, for example, is a requisite for good reading. Sensitivity to irony seems to be unevenly distributed in the population. A sense for irony is by no means identical to intelligence. You get it or you don't get it. Dickens in Bleak House in what he says
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Publication information: Book title: On Literature. Contributors: J. Hillis Miller - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 115.
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