Emma Bovary reads a range of things, from great literature to sentimental trash, but reads everything badly, identifies with characters, and wants life to be like books. I don’t remember about Anna Karenina—probably similar.
Among Jane Austen’s characters, Emma Woodhouse is meant to read more, whilst Fanny Price immerses herself in poetry and has good taste. I’ve forgotten about the other heroines.
What about Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart?
In chapter 1, Lily Bart looks at Selden’s bookshelf and they talk about books:
“"And Americana—do you collect Americana?"She asks about Americana so later she can talk to Percy Pryce about his collection, and try to seduce him.
Selden stared and laughed.
"No, that's rather out of my line. I'm not really a collector, you see; I simply like to have good editions of the books I am fond of."
She made a slight grimace. "And Americana are horribly dull, I suppose?"
"I should fancy so—except to the historian. But your real collector values a thing for its rarity. I don't suppose the buyers of Americana sit up reading them all night—old Jefferson Gryce certainly didn't."
She was listening with keen attention.”
“"Don't you ever mind," she asked suddenly, "not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?"Again, the question is not about books as much as about having money to buy everything you want. Lily’s standing before a bookshelf, but her interest lies elsewhere.
He followed her glance about the room, with its worn furniture and shabby walls.
"Don't I just? Do you take me for a saint on a pillar?"
"And having to work—do you mind that?"”
Hermione Lee covers the subject in her Obligations (at the end of The House of Mirth):
“Lily likes to think of herself as a reader, and one of the things that attracts her to Selden is that he makes her into a better one. When she scans her world through his ‘retina’, she finds she can ‘classify’ the people in it more sharply, and ‘review’ them as if they were second-rate literature […]. She envies Selden his library; she prides herself on her ‘broadminded recognition of literature’; and her responses to hearing Theocritus read on the coast of Sicily confirms ‘her belief in her intellectual superiority’. But she has no real literary interests. We see her cutting the pages of a novel on the train going to Bellomont, but she never reads it: she is too busy seducing Percy Pryce. The only book which sticks in her mind is a copy of the Eumenides she once happened to pick up in someone’s house, which teachers her about the implacable, vengeful Furies. Wharton often applied Aeschylus’s Furies to her own life. But, unlike Wharton, when Lily is pursued by the Furies, the idea of solace through reading never occurs to her.”It’s interesting that Hermione Lee talks about Lily as a reader of people, because she is a bad one.
She misreads Rosedale, for example:
“Though usually adroit enough where her own interests were concerned, she made the mistake, not uncommon to persons in whom the social habits are instinctive, of supposing that the inability to acquire them quickly implies a general dulness. Because a blue-bottle bangs irrationally against a window-pane, the drawing-room naturalist may forget that under less artificial conditions it is capable of measuring distances and drawing conclusions with all the accuracy needful to its welfare; and the fact that Mr. Rosedale's drawing-room manner lacked perspective made Lily class him with Trenor and the other dull men she knew, and assume that a little flattery, and the occasional acceptance of his hospitality, would suffice to render him innocuous…” (B.1, Ch.10)This is repeated:
“[Rosedale] was sensitive to shades of difference which Miss Bart would never have credited him with perceiving, because he had no corresponding variations of manner…” (B.1, Ch.11)She is wrong about Grace Stepney:
“She was quite aware that she was of interest to dingy people, but she assumed that there is only one form of dinginess, and that admiration for brilliancy is the natural expression of its inferior state. She knew that Gerty Farish admired her blindly, and therefore supposed that she inspired the same sentiments in Grace Stepney, whom she classified as a Gerty Farish without the saving traits of youth and enthusiasm.Lily misjudges Grace and slights her, not realising how petty the woman could be and that something as simple as moving a dinner could make Grace rat on her.
In reality, the two differed from each other as much as they differed from the object of their mutual contemplation.” (ibid.)
In both cases, she cannot see the difference beneath the superficial similarities. If she read Jane Austen, I can tell she would think Elizabeth Bennet and Mary Crawford are very much alike.
Lily also makes several blunders throughout the story, such as going to Selden’s flat alone and being seen and making up a bad story to cover it like she has something to hide; or taking tips from her friend’s husband Trenor and being seen as friendly to him, and misjudging people’s reactions.
In short, she doesn’t seem to have much interest in books, and as a reader of people, she’s quite a bad one.