On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Today begins our study of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well. Karen is an old friend to Literary Life and recently led us through her book Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. On Reading Well is in many ways a continuation of the conversation. A central theme of Booked is reading promiscuously, a phrase drawn from Milton’s Areopagitica.
As Karen wrote in On Reading Well’s introduction:
Because the world since the fall contains both good and evil, Milton says, virtue consists of choosing good over evil. Milton distinguishes between the innocent, who know no evil, and the virtuous, who know what evil is and elect to do good. What better way to learn the difference between evil and good, Milton argues, than to gain knowledge of both through reading widely: “Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.”
Why should we read “promiscuously”? Are there important reasons for Christians especially to do so?