Why history’s wisest figures have seen a connection between reading well and living well.
When I was a young girl, I gathered up all my books from my bedroom, carried them downstairs into our finished basement, arranged them on a bookcase, and opened my own little library. I’d like to say I did this in order to let my friends check out the books to read, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I made them do it. Now as an English professor, I make my students read books, and it has been both my passion and my job to encourage people to read widely.
When I began teaching, I found I had to become a kind of apologist for literary reading. Some of my Christian students (along with their nervous parents) were wary of reading “worldly” literature by authors who, perhaps, were hostile to the Christian worldview. As a young professor at an evangelical university, I developed an approach to teaching my classes that began with a biblical basis for reading literature, including literature that is not necessarily “Christian.” I came to relish every opportunity to teach my students (and sometimes their parents) how such reading ultimately can strengthen one’s Christian faith and worldview. I became an evangelist for reading widely.
Then, over the past several years, something began to shift. Now nearly everyone seems to be reading more—and more widely. I seldom encounter students who have been sheltered from diverse points of view, transgressive ideas, or atheistic arguments. Or even Harry Potter. Between blog posts, Twitter feeds, listicles, and long-winded Facebook rants, everyone seems to be reading something most of the time—right from the palm of their hand. Yet we don’t seem to be better readers. In fact, we seem to be worse. (Just spend two minutes following …
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