Finding the Good Life through Great Books
Reading great literature well has the power to cultivate virtue. Great literature increases knowledge of and desire for the good life by showing readers what virtue looks like and where vice leads. It is not just what one reads but how one reads that cultivates virtue. Reading good literature well requires one to practice numerous virtues, such as patience, diligence, and prudence. And learning to judge wisely a character in a book, in turn, forms the reader’s own character.
Acclaimed author Karen Swallow Prior takes readers on a guided tour through works of great literature both ancient and modern, exploring twelve virtues that philosophers and theologians throughout history have identified as most essential for good character and the good life. In reintroducing ancient virtues that are as relevant and essential today as ever, Prior draws on the best classical and Christian thinkers, including Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine. Covering authors from Henry Fielding to Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen to George Saunders, and Flannery O’Connor to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prior explores some of the most compelling universal themes found in the pages of classic books, helping readers learn to love life, literature, and God through their encounters with great writing. In examining works by these authors and more, Prior shows why virtues such as prudence, temperance, humility, and patience are still necessary for human flourishing and civil society. The book includes end-of-chapter reflection questions geared toward book club discussions, features original artwork throughout, and includes a foreword from Leland Ryken.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ How Is Your Reading Impacting Your Life?
I wanted to read well. In On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books, Karen Swallow Prior offers the insight that to read well, “one must read virtuously.” (15) One does this by reading closely, resisting the urge to skim, and by reading slowly, investing both time and attention into the words on the page. Books worth reading make demands upon the reader which are well-compensated: enjoyment, enrichment, and enhanced ability to think (and, therefore, to enjoy more books!).
In a non-fiction format, Prior employs the most compelling aspects of fiction to take readers to a new level of understanding in their own reading life, and this is a great gift because “reading literature, more than informing us, forms us.” By reading well, we become better equipped to read more skillfully our own narrative arc, to ask ourselves the probing questions that reveal our motives and sift our hypocrisy as we trust for grace to live well.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ A beautiful gift that deserves to be savored.
Karen Swallow Prior is one of the preeminent thinkers and writers of our time. Her wit, wisdom, and insight always make for a good read. In her third book, Prior chooses 12 literature classics (including The Great Gatsby, Pilgrim’s Progress, and A Tale of Two Cities) and mines them for the virtues that they embody. Swallow Prior has an amazing ability to pull deep truths out of a text and then offer them back to her readers as invitations to grow. In chapter five, which explores faith via the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo, she writes, “But the purpose in reading this novel—or any novel—is not to find definite answers about the characters. It is rather to ask definitive questions about ourselves.” Like all of Karen’s work, On Reading Well is a rich gift and needs to be savored.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Encourage your reading habits & take them to higher ground.
Karen Prior’s On Reading Well is a love story. It is not only the story of her love of reading good literature, but it is also her love of virtue – rooted in her Christian faith – and how one trait of good literature is its enhancement of virtue. Prior calls her first book (Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me) a love story – but I believe this one is, too.
There has been a fair amount of research that shows us that readers learn empathy from what they read. Reading makes us better human beings. It makes us more humane. And that is much of what Prior is laying out for us in On Reading Well. “Just as water, over a long period of time, reshapes the land through which it runs, so too we are formed by the habit of reading good books well.”
The best summary I can give of what On Reading Well is to me comes in Prior’s own words in her chapter on diligence: “bringing spiritual truth down to earthly level, not simply to leave it there but to lift the reader toward the spiritual truth.”
May your experience with On Reading Well encourage your literary habits and lift you to higher grounds.