I’m devouring On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior. Maybe you don’t miss high school English as much as I, but I’ll bet you your lunch money that you won’t be disappointed if you give this new release a try (Brazos Press).
Here’s the format: Professor Prior explores Christian virtues as they figure prominently in twelve key selections of Western literature. From Henry Fielding to Flannery O’Connor. Perhaps you’ve never read The Great Gatsby. Here’s your chance to get up-close-and-personal with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald by exploring the “ongoing tension that has always defined American culture.” Prior is referring to the struggle which you and I face every day: will I deny myself some pleasures so that I can pursue what matters most (am I willing to trade the good for the best?) … or will I live far beyond my means so that I can — like the credit card companies promise — have it all now?
You’ll learn how to read closely, and you’ll learn how to read slowly. You’ll learn how classical and Christian thinkers have contributed not just breadth and depth to modern civilization, but artistry and grace as well.
You’ll learn how to appreciate words. That’s good for us as a people formed (and being reformed) by the Word (John 1:1), don’t you think? Is there a difference between being kind and being nice? You bet your bottom dollar there is! Sound etymology leads to … well, I’ll cut to the chase, a better life.
You’ll meet Ethan Frome, as you think about what C.S. Lewis called “the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.” Here’s my favorite part of Prior’s commentary: “In his desires for beauty, friendship, affirmation, and respect, Ethan is like all of us. His situation is hard. He is a man born into hard conditions, with untapped potential, exposed to just enough of life beyond the narrow constraints of the life he inherited so as to dream, only to see those dreams frustrated.”
As you fall in love with literature you may have missed, you may find yourself befriending more than a few of the characters. There’s even a section of probing questions at the end of On Reading Well, in case you want to explore this book as a family, with a friend, or as part of your book club. So grab your copy and get going!
I think you’ll be drawn in from the moment you dive in. Happy reading!