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On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life…
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On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books (edition 2018)

by Karen Swallow Prior (Author)

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253570,982 (4.44)6
"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 reflection questions geared toward book club discussions"--Amazon.… (more)
Member:sullijo
Title:On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books
Authors:Karen Swallow Prior (Author)
Info:Brazos Press (2018), 272 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:
Tags:@ordered, nonfiction, literary criticism

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On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior (Author)

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Ordered 2019-11-29

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» See also 6 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
I highly recommend Karen Swallow Prior’s book “On Reading Well”. It is a journey through the Cardinal, Theological, and Heavenly virtues that teaches their biblical definitions and how those virtues are personified in good literature. I love how Prior is able to weave together theology and literature in such a way that it provides a tangible way to understand how such virtues are manifested in everyday life. It was a great read and introduced me to novels that previously I had not been introduced. I hope to be able to read many of the pieces she highlights in her book. 👍🏼👍🏼 ( )
  cjpartyka | Jun 6, 2019 |
For anyone who loves literature and reading and has an appreciation of - or at least an openness to - the classics, I recommend this highly. It is terrific. So is Bobonbooks' review.

My top impressions/observations:

1) Through analysis of works of literature, this book gave me a lens for interpreting scripture that I'd never before thought of or read anything quite like.

2) Deep exploration of 12 character virtues divided into three buckets (cardinal, theological, heavenly), each brought to life through a specific novel, helped me dial into, understand, and internalize those virtues in a fresh way.

3) The virtues that resonated with me the most were justice, courage, faith, hope, chastity, kindness and humility, but your virtue DNA may be comprised of different strands. They're all wonderful traits to exemplify.

4) Several of the books showcased, I'd read many times before and this made me appreciate them anew (Huck Finn, The Road, Tale of Two Cities).

5) A few of the books, I'd read in high school and didn't have the life experience to really understand at the time. For years now, I've thought good riddance to The Great Gatsby and Persuasion, but now I think I owe them a second read as an adult. It's a miracle!

6) A few have languished on my TBR for years without me ever getting around to them. They've just been rebooted to the top--looking at you, Ethan Frome, Silence, and pretty much everything by Flannery O'Connor!

7) This is like the 'slow food movement' for readers - read and savor, quality over quantity. I mean, yes...that's especially hard to do when my TBR goals are high and climbing (another nod to the Protestant work ethic misdirected). It's not you. It's me.

8) The mantra to read promiscuously! For real, if you don't love everything about that, I'm not sure we can be friends.

9) Never read Karen Swallow Prior before, may never again, but this book is a treasure, I tell you. I love her mind and the three-way intersection of character, literature, and Christianity/spiritual. At my fantasy dinner party--she'll always have a seat saved at the table. ( )
1 vote angiestahl | Apr 29, 2019 |
"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 reflection questions geared toward book club discussions"--Amazon.
  staylorlib | Apr 18, 2019 |
Summary: Makes a case that the reading of great literature may help us live well through cultivating the desire in us to live virtuously and to understand why we are doing so.

Karen Swallow Prior wants us to heed John Milton's advice to "read promiscuously" great works of literature because they may help the reader distinguish between vice and virtue, and hopefully choose the latter. In doing so, Prior advances an argument contrary to most of contemporary literary criticism that argues against the purpose of teaching literature to form moral character, perhaps most famously argued in Stanley Fish's Save the World on Your Own Time. Prior argues that great books do set before us not only examples of vice and virtue but help us see the telos or purpose or end of living a virtuous life.

Along the way, as she introduces her theme, she proposes some helpful advice for how we might read well, summarized here:

"Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it."

Prior then leads us into the practice of reading literature with an eye to what great works might help us understand about specific virtues. Most of this work focuses on twelve virtues in three groups, with a discussion of that virtue being focused on a particular work. While other virtues may be found in each of these works, her discussion is focused around one virtue in each work. Here is how the work is organized:

Part One: The Cardinal Virtues
1. Prudence: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
2. Temperance: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Justice: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
4. Courage: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Part Two: The Theological Virtues
5. Faith: Silence by Shusaku Endo
6. Hope: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
7. Love: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

Part Three: The Heavenly Virtues
8. Chastity: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
9. Diligence: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
10. Patience: Persuasion by Jane Austen
11. Kindness: "Tenth of December" by George Saunders
12. Humility: "Revelation" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor

One of the effects of reading Prior's discussion is to introduce us to the vocabulary of virtue, one that may seem archaic for many, and yet is central to the well-lived life. Tom Jones's observations of the imprudence of many helps us understand that prudence is "right reason direct to the excellent human life." From The Great Gatsby, we discover that temperance is not abstinence but that "One attains the virtue of temperance when one's appetites have been shaped such that one's very desires are in proper order and proportion." While chastity may often be regarded, in the words of C.S. Lewis, as "the most unpopular of Christian virtues," we discover through Ethan Frome that "chastity is not withholding but giving" of our bodies in the right context, keeping faith that we say with our bodies what we've vowed with our lips and that individual chastity is nourished in a community that healthily values the living of chaste lives.

Prior's discussion is nuanced, distinguishing between false versions of virtues as well as how each virtue is a mean between an excess and a deficiency. For example, from Jane Austen's Persuasion, we learn not only that patience is born out of enduring suffering but also that patience is virtuous "only if the cause for which that person suffers is good." It may not be a virtue to be patient with injustice!

One of the effects of reading this work was to make me want to read or re-read the works she explores in her book. Some, like The Great Gatsby or Ethan Frome, I read in high school. Her chapter on Cormac McCarthy's The Road and her discussion of hope amid the dystopian setting of the book intrigued me enough to pick up a copy of the book.

I do find it curious that all but one of the writers she chose were westerners of Caucasian descent. The exception is Shusaku Endo and his fine work, Silence, in which she explores the virtue of faith. Perhaps her selection reflects her own academic area as a professor of English whose research has focused in the area of Eighteenth century English literature and the work of the Eighteenth century women's writer, Hannah More. It might be valuable in future editions of this work (for which I hope!) to offer a reading list, perhaps organized around the virtues, of other great works, including those of non-Western authors and Western authors of color.

The book includes a discussion guide at the end, making this a great resource for reading groups, as well as for personal study. The work features delightful illustrations at the beginning of each chapter by artist Ned Bustard (who also drew the cover illustration).

Karen Swallow Prior makes a convincing case in this work for what many of us have intuited--that great literature can change our lives as we reflect on examples of virtue. And far from "spoiling" the great works she discusses, she opens them up in their possibility to instruct us such that we want to go out and read them for ourselves. But before you buy the works she discusses, I would suggest you pick up On Reading Well, because I believe it will enrich your reading of the other books.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
3 vote BobonBooks | Sep 16, 2018 |
Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior discusses twelve literary works in light of Christian virtues portrayed in each. She utilizes other literature, theological and Biblical studies works, philosophy, and classics to reach her conclusions. The work is divided into sections for the cardinal virtues, theological virtues, and heavenly virtues.

Contents include:
Prudence: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
Temperance: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Justice: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Courage: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Faith: Silence by Shusaku Endo
Hope: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Love: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Chastity: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Diligence: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Patience: Persuasion by Jane Austen
Humility: "Revelation" and "Everything that Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor

These essays would create great discussions in classes covering those works, particularly in Christian liberal arts universities. They could also serve as models for writing essays on literary works. This review is based on an advance review copy received from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an unbiased review. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jul 15, 2018 |
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Prior, Karen SwallowAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ryken, LelandForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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