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On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books
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On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  100 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Reading great literature well has the power to cultivate virtue. Great literature increases knowledge of and desire for the good life by showing readers what virtue looks like and where vice leads. It is not just what one reads but how one reads that cultivates virtue. Reading good literature well requires one to practice numerous virtues, such as patience, diligence, and ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Brazos Press (first published September 2018)
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I received an ARC paperback and read the forward and introduction on June 17–18, 2018. Promotional video here. Commendation here. Claremont review here. Patheos review here.

Forward (Ryken) (pp. 9–11)
tradition of appreciating the moral dimensions of literature
Aristotle and Sidney ("winning the mind")
Enlightenment/modernity: decline in moral unity
Leavis's The Great Tradition

literary criticism: example theory (return to the great tradition) <— this is only one way of reading a text
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 th
Samuel James
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
On the one hand are rote worldview tests that strip stories and art down to their "good vs bad" parts. On the other hand is a cottage industry of "engaging culture" that usually translates into consuming whatever we like indiscriminately and calling it a Christian exercise. What I love most about this book is how Prior offers a roadmap for something better: Truly seeing reality along the light beams of great books with the aim of attaining Christian virtue. The sections that discuss virtue itsel ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In her introduction to her latest book, On Reading Well (Brazos Press, 2018), Karen Swallow Prior writes: “Reading well adds to our life . . . in the same way a friendship adds to our life, changing it forever.” Just as we cultivate our circle of friends and acquaintances (with an unfriend, unfollow, block, or mute), so too ought we to cultivate that other great shaper of character: our reading list, known to many as the TBR.

In an age when our worth - or at least the value of our words - is ofte
Michele Morin
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a child, reading was my oasis, but it was not until I grew up, finished college, got married, and started reading aloud to a brood of boys that I began to realize it was not enough simply to read widely. I wanted to read well. In On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books, Karen Swallow Prior offers the insight that to read well, “one must read virtuously.” (15) One does this by reading closely, resisting the urge to skim, and by reading slowly, investing both time and attenti ...more
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"All literature - stories most obviously - centers on some conflict, rupture or lack. Literature is birthed from our fallenness: without the fall, there would be no story."

This book is gem. We live in a utilitarian, functional, and secularized culture, and it is no surprise that when we look at literature, probe its meanings, we look for plot, theme, character, and the like. Yet we forget an important aspect, to look for what is edifying, for what is good, true, and beautiful, in other words, we
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
[Disclaimer: I received an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher, but no other remuneration for a review in any manner]

We’ve grown used to quick reads, a couple of swipes up with our finger and we are ready to move on to the next thing. We read for information or for distraction. We’ve taken to speed reading, to listening to audiobooks at double speed, to reading summaries online, in lieu of reading well. Reading slowly has come to be seen as something to be ashamed of. Who has time to read c
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 T
Benjamin Messina
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Quite possibly my favorite book I’ve read this year.
George P.
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. My father was a pastor and my mother was a teacher, so there were always books around the house — preeminently the Bible, but also works of fiction and nonfiction. I never caught flak for reading as such, but my mom would sometimes look askance at me when I told her I was reading fiction.

Fiction is weird. Pablo Picasso wrote, “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” Leland Ryken, my college English profess
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, net-galley
"But it is not enough to read widely. One must also read well. One must read virtuously."

Forty years ago, this undergraduate English major was introduced to the book The Universe Next Door by the late Dr James W Sire. As I read it, I was made aware of the competing worldviews of the day, most of which have become a greater part of the American cultural and religious scene in the past four decades. I thought of Sire's book as I read Dr Karen Swallow Prior's new book On Reading Well: Finding the G
Seth Woodley
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. The variety of great works and virtues examined provides freshness with each chapter. The introduction is well worth the price of the whole book on its own. In addition, there are great thoughts on virtues and works of literature, and I will likely benefit from revisiting some of these chapters in the future. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on faith (Silence), hope (The Road), and diligence (The Pilgrim's Progress). I have read several of the books, but some of th ...more
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"But it is not enough to read widely. One must also read well. One must read virtuously".

This book is a thesis on why reading goes beyond entertainment, but feeding the soul.
Of course literature review book might seem an obvious choice for a bookworm, but it's not. To pic up a book of someone who actually understand the art that is writing and reading is refreshing, as if, paraphrasing C.S Lewis, a friendship can be formed because you come to that moment where you say "oh, you too?".
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent discussion on virtue. The virtues all interact and support one another. Reading novels as a way to grow in virtue is a wonderful prospect. Does it work for every novel? Do we need to be mindful readers for it to work? I usually miss a lot of those types of things when I read, but perhaps it is still the essence distilled from the story that does stay with me. Either way, Karen Swallow Prior has crafted a lovely, beautiful book.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I bought this book because Karen Swallow Prior is a superior author and thinker on topics I’m seriously devoted to: reading, literature, and how reading and literature inform and enrich the Christian’s life.

Prior’s chapters on The Great Gatsby, Ethan Frome, and Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are three important reasons I bought this book. Those chapters alone were worth it to me because I teach those authors every year in my classroom.
Dorothy Greco
Karen Swallow Prior is one of the preeminent thinkers and writers of our time. Her wit, wisdom, and insight always make for a good read. In her third book, Prior chooses 12 literature classics (including The Great Gatsby, Pilgrim’s Progress, and A Tale of Two Cities) and mines them for the virtues that they embody. Swallow Prior has an amazing ability to pull deep truths out of a text and then offer them back to her readers as invitations to grow. In chapter five, which explores faith via the no ...more
Emily Schultz
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think this is my favorite of all of the books I read in 2018. On Reading Well shows the reader how to find virtue in fiction works. You can read my full review here:

I was provided with an advanced electronic copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book describes exactly how I read books. I had so much fun seeing someone be able to clearly explain how we can read fiction and experience, practice and grow!

Seeing and recognizing virtues and morals as we read, helps to prepare us to handle situations of life better.

I will admit that it felt like it was written for NONFICTION readers, to help them understand the way fiction readers read and understand / learn, with lots of examples. So in that way, it was a slow read for me,

With that in
Ned Bustard
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
This was an excellent book—it had great insights into classic works of literature and inspired me to want to read several great books that I have never gotten around to picking up. And, of course, I like the artwork on the cover and at the opening of each chapter...
I'll admit my bias. I had seen On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books on many blogs which gave it glowing reviews. However, when I saw that Karen Swallow Prior teaches at Liberty University, I was instantly turned off. "Can anything good come out of Liberty?" Can you really take moral advice from someone who is employed by a school whose president says things like "I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before ...more
Daniel Coughlin
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
FYI: I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher (and a poster) with no strings attached except I can't share direct quotes.

On Reading Well is an excellent encouragement for reading great books. Honestly, reading through the chapters I was taken back to the discussions in my college's literatures courses. Except I have the benefit of an additional 20 years of living, marriage, career, and children that I bring with my eyes on the books.

It's also a bit like sitting down with a friend
Matt Miles
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Since there’s a lot of ink out there lately about how literature encourages empathy, it’s refreshing to see someone take the discussion in a different direction. I’m sure the author of On Reading Well wouldn’t disagree that good fiction strengthens empathy, but she sets her sights further and higher. She sees a lack of virtues in our current culture that were historically valued in Christianity, and she believes that well-written short stories, allegories, and novels can help point the way back. ...more
D.J. Hamon
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My wife and I had a math teacher in middle school who sent kids to high school thoroughly prepared for algebra. But when we talk about him, it’s always about how he taught us so much more about life. Karen Swallow Prior is nominally a literature professor, but you will learn so much more than about good books. On the downside, after reading two of her books, my to be read list has grown immensely. My previous reading plan has been interrupted with consuming the books discussed in her works.
On Re
Lauren Hogg
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars

I had heard wonderful things about this one, so when I saw it in the “new books” section of my library, I had to pick it up! Telling how we can learn about virtues through great literature, Prior informs the reader what impact books can have on us. I felt a bit like I was back in English class, as the author takes you along her literary analysis journey. I enjoyed some of the chapters very much, and was a bit bored by others. I especially enjoyed the chapters based on books that’s I’ve
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley-books
n this book, the author discusses three types of virtues (Cardinal, Theological and Heavenly) and how they are portrayed in classic literature. The purpose is to teach readers how to look beyond the superficial to get the most out of the reading experience. Each chapter tackles a book and a virtue found within its pages. I will say that I got more out of the chapters that dealt with books that I had already read, so it might be useful to use this book as a reference as you read each book. This i ...more
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m not sure if I was in the right headspace to fully appreciate this book, so please take my review with a grain of salt. I love books, and I love books about books. That being said, I definitely would not categorize this book in that genre. The best description I can give this book is a collection of essays from the author’s worldview of 12 (I think!) character qualities, with a book that she feels would best demonstrate each of those traits. In my completely unprofessional opinion, I think th ...more
Michael Swanson
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I deeply respect Karen and have loved everything I've ever read by her. On Reading Well was no exception. She found a way to talk about Christian virtue (which is often a sorely needed conversation in our current cultural moment) in the context of literature. I'm grateful that she was able to examine being formed in Christ-likeness, while simultaneously calling the reader through her own experiences in the printed word. Where Evangelicalism has often neglected the life of the mind, Karen's work ...more
Gina Dalfonzo
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As always, Karen presents us with a deeply insightful and moving analysis of great literature and how it applies to our emotional, moral, and spiritual lives. Although "A Tale of Two Cities" is my favorite novel and I loved her chapter on that one (which I got to help with a little bit! :-) ), what brought me to tears was her chapter on "Tenth of December," a book I haven't even read yet. Which just goes to show how good Karen is at bringing these stories home to us and bringing out their beauty ...more
One of my favorite college professors wrote the foreword to this so I picked it up. I’m so glad I did. Even with a not-so-disguised slam of both my favorite composer and my entire generation in the middle of it, which I felt was 1) unnecessary and 2) a misinterpretation of the moment the author mentions, the remainder of the book is well-done and thoughtful. It reminded me of being back in literature classes that challenged and inspired me.

Highly recommended.
Will Stevens
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
A book about reading books. It was more academic than I expected but once I accepted that, I really enjoyed this book. The thesis is that good literature and can teach us virtue and develop it within us. The author showed this in excellent analysis of a number of classic books; a few I've read but most I haven't. It made me want to read and hopefully a better reader.
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Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a mem ...more
“the desires that are cultivated by books (and other forms of stories, including film, songs, and especially commercials) can pull us toward the good life—or toward false visions of the good life (as Gustave Flaubert shows in romance-reading Emma Bovary). 36 Reading well entails discerning which visions of life are false and which are good and true—” 1 likes
“I retell in the pages of Booked how, by reading widely, voraciously, and indiscriminately, I learned spiritual lessons I never learned in church or Sunday school, as well as emotional and intellectual lessons that I would never have encountered within the realm of my lived experience.” 1 likes
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