On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior has created a stir within the Christian community. At first glance, her book could be perceived as a resource for book elitists, but nothing could be further from the truth.
This is a guide for anyone—Christian or not—who desires self-improvement through a more effective reading experience. Karen embodies the virtues of what we aim to achieve through Lifeway Books. We need Karen Swallow Prior and voices like hers to lead us to bravely engage culture through reading and writing.
The following is a selection of quotes from On Reading Well that we hope will whet your appetite for reading.
- “Reading literature, more than informing us, forms us.”
- “Reading well adds to our life—not in the way a tool from the hardware store adds to our life, for a tool does us no good once lost or broken, but in the way a friendship adds to our life, altering us forever.”
- “It’s not enough to read widely. One almost must read well. One must read virtuously. The word virtue has various shades of meaning…., but in general, virtue can most simply be understood as excellence, and it is also a habit that cultivates more virtue in return.”
- “Literature embodies virtue, first, by offering images of virtue in action and, second, by offering the reader vicarious practice in exercising virtue, which is not the same as actual practice, of course, but is nonetheless a practice by which habits of mind, ways of thinking and perceiving, accrue.”
- “Practice makes perfect, but pleasure makes practice more likely, so read something enjoyable. If a book is so agonizing that you avoid reading it, put it down and pick up one that brings you pleasure. Life is too short and books are too plentiful not to. Besides, one can’t read well without enjoying reading. On the other hand, the greatest pleasures are those born of labor and investment. A book that requires nothing from you might offer the same diversion as that of a television sitcom, but it is unlikely to provide intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual rewards long after the cover is closed. Therefore, even as you seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you: books with sentences so exquisitely crafted that they must be reread, familiar words used in fresh ways, new words so evocative that you are compelled to look them up, and images and ideas so arresting that they return to you unbidden for days to come.”
- “Attending to the words on the page requires deliberation, and this improves with practice.”
- “To read well is not to scour books for lessons on what to think. Rather, to read well is to be formed in how to think. In An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis argues that to approach a literary work ‘with nothing but a desire for self-improvement’ is to use it rather than to receive it. While great books do offer important truths about life and character, Lewis cautions against using books merely for lessons. Literary works are, after all, works of art to be enjoyed for their own sake rather than used merely for our personal benefit.”
- “The true worth of books is in their words and ideas, not their pristine pages. One friend wisely observed that ‘readers are not made for books—books are made for readers.’”
- “Great books offer perspectives more than lessons. Literature shows us ‘how a different character, a situation, an event seems from different angles and perspectives, and even then how inexact our knowledge remains.’ Literature replicates the world of the concrete, where the experiential learning necessary for virtue occurs. Such experiential learning does not come through technique. ‘One learns it by guidance rather than by a formula.’”
- “Just as a fine meal should be savored, so, too, good books are to be luxuriated in, not rushed through.”