— W. H. Auden Anglo-American poet 1907 - 1973
Reported by Lionel Trilling in "On the Modern Element in Modern Literature", Partisan Review, January-February 1961, p. 15 (reprinted in Trilling's Beyond Culture, 1965): Trilling wrote: "taking the cue of W. H. Auden's remark that a real book reads us, I have been read by Eliot's poems...".
More commonly reported as "a real book is not one that we read but one that reads us". This paraphrase of Trilling's reported quotation first appeared in a review by Robie Macauley of Trilling's Beyond Culture in the New York Times Book Review, 14 November 1965, p. 38: "I must borrow a phrase from Mr. Trilling (who borrows it from W. H. Auden): a real book is not one that we read but one that reads us." The same version, attributed to Auden, appears in Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips & Quotes (1968), p. 87 (with a comma after "we read"). There is no evidence that Auden ever wrote or said this version of the phrase.
Other variations (e.g. "not one that's read" for "not one that we read") seem to be misrecollections of Robie Macaulay's paraphrase.