★ Publishers Weekly starred
A Best Book of 2018 in Religion, Publishers Weekly
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 prudence. And learning to judge wisely a character in a book, in turn, forms the reader's own character.
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 end-of-chapter reflection questions geared toward book club discussions, features original artwork throughout, and includes a foreword from Leland Ryken.
Read Well. Live Well.
Acclaimed author Karen Swallow Prior takes us on a guided tour through works of great literature, helping us learn to love life, literature, and God through our encounters with great writing.
"Karen Swallow Prior has written several critically acclaimed books, but in my book, her book on books is her best yet. On Reading Well is both a love letter to literature and a handbook on virtue, wisdom, and the good life. Bound to be a classic, it is an engrossing work that will appeal to book nerds and casual readers alike. Read it now, and you'll never take books for granted again."
--Jonathan Merritt, contributor to the Atlantic and author of Learning to Speak God from Scratch
"On Reading Well is an exploration of the formative power of stories and an excavation of the life well lived, and we could scarcely have a better guide than Karen Swallow Prior. She is a person who loves (and has been shaped by) great books and who loves (and has been shaped by) the richness of Scripture, a scholar whose writing exudes both warmth and conviction. This story-saturated engagement with the virtues is pragmatic enough to touch the nitty-gritty of our lives and imaginative enough to inspire."
--Tish Harrison Warren, priest in the Anglican Church of North America; author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
"It sure seems like virtue is needed now more than ever. And what a treasure trove we have for encountering virtue in literature! Prior is a lovely and wise guide. Take this resplendent tour--read this book! Your life will be better for it."
--Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior fellow and director of the Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society, National Review Institute; editor-at-large, National Review
"You might not think yourself to be the kind of person to read a book about reading books. If you are trying to love people, to work well, to find meaning in your life, this book is for you. Prior guides us through the big questions from great books with wisdom, insight, creativity, and compassion. A significant and powerful work that will refocus discussion on the meaning of reading for spiritual formation."
--Russell Moore, president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
"[A] lively treatise on building character through books. . . . With exquisite writing, [Prior] demonstrates how 'reading literature, more than informing us, forms us.'"--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Foreword by Leland Ryken
Introduction: Read Well, Live Well
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
Karen Swallow Prior (PhD, SUNY Buffalo) is an award-winning professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Prior has written for Christianity Today, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, First Things, Vox, Think Christian, and The Gospel Coalition. She is a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a senior fellow with Liberty University's Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, a senior fellow with the Trinity Forum, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.