On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior

It was my great blessing to have had excellent English teachers from seventh grade through college. They each had a gift of teaching, but they each also had a passion for what they were teaching. They took me behind the story so that I could see it was a story, yes, but it was also a lesson about life, an inspiration, a pathway of imagination, a structure through which poured ideas, beliefs, assertions, and principles.

And this was fiction I’m talking about.

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Learning From Each Other

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Jonathan Swift (born on this day in 1667) was the author of Gulliver’s Travels.  In it he wrote Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.” Expressed a little more crudely, its easy to start believing your own BS.  Easy, that is until someone else calls you out.  Satire is at once funny and uncomfortable.  G.K. Chesterton said “A man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.”

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A Child Meets Death in Charlotte’s Web

Children are often confronted with harsh realities for which they are inadequately equipped. Innocence is fragile.  Some of our earliest memories include bracing traumas of loss, and like every human being, children try to cope.  They turn to God in their own way and often find Him in His interaction with them through creation.  Just as seasons reflect in microcosm the seasons of our lives, our dominion over the animals is a means by which His watch-care over us can be better understood.  For children especially, this is high theology.  It is also a gateway to the power of literature.

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A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities


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Lasting Impact

“My name,” he said, “is Jaggers, and I am a lawyer in London. . . . I have unusual business to transact with you, and I commence by explaining that it is not of my originating. . . .”
Finding that he could not see us very well from where he sat, he got up, and threw one leg over the back of a chair and leaned upon it; thus having one foot on the seat of the chair, and one foot on the ground.
“Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you of this young fellow your apprentice. You would not object to cancel his indentures at his request and for his good? You would want nothing for so doing?”
“Lord forbid that I should want anything for not standing in Pip’s way,” said Joe, staring.
“Lord forbidding is pious, but not to the purpose,” returned Mr. Jaggers. “The question is, Would you want anything? Do you want anything?”
“The answer is,” returned Joe, sternly, “No.”
I thought Mr. Jaggers glanced at Joe, as if he considered him a fool for his disinterestedness. But I was too much bewildered between breathless curiosity and surprise, to be sure of it.
“Very well,” said Mr. Jaggers. “Recollect the admission you have made, and don’t try to go from it presently.”
“Who’s a going to try?” retorted Joe. . . .
“Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has Great Expectations.”

~Charles Dickens, from Great Expectations


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