Why should we read? We assume that reading is good for us, but often we cannot articulate exactly what it does for us. In this fascinating book, Sarah Worth addresses from a philosophical perspective the many ways in which reading benefits us morally, socially, and cognitively.
Worth leads her readers through the subtle questions of the ways in which we understand fiction, nonfiction, and the overlap and blending of other genre distinctions. Ultimately she argues that reading, hearing, and telling well-told stories is of the utmost importance in developing a healthy sense of personal identity, a greater sense of narrative coherence, and an increased ability to make different kinds of inferences. Engaging classical philosophical questions in the contemporary landscape of educational literacy and the inclusion of fiction in a classroom curriculum, Worth demonstrates how our hyper-focus on genre distinctions moves us away from a real engagement with narrative understanding and narrative comprehension.
Preface / 1. The benefits of reading / 2. Fiction and nonfiction / 3. The boundaries of genre / 4. Memoir: a case study / 5. Narrative knowledge / 6. Belief and the mind / 7. Evidence or no evidence? / Conclusion
Worth offers a splendid defense not just of reading, but of reading for pleasure. She does this with an eye to challenging the recent obsession with concrete demonstrations of usefulness in academic curricula, something that has cast doubt on the significance of literature inside and outside the academy. The book offers a cogent criticism of such attitudes.
‘This important book defends reading literature both because it makes us better people, but also because it is a joy in itself. Anyone working in philosophical aesthetics will profit by reading it, and it should be compulsory reading for those who determine the reading lists of our schools and colleges. This is a significant contribution to our thinking about reading, and the place reading has (or ought to have) in our lives.’
Worth refutes recent philosophical skepticism about the moral value of fiction by summarizing social scientific evidence about the benefits of reading both by individuals and in communities ranging from prisoners to book club members. She also critiques new educational standards that favor “reading for information.” This exceptionally clear book provides an urgently needed defense of the value of literary reading.
Worth’s book will hopefully enjoy a large readership far beyond the circles of professional aestheticians. It presents a rich and carefully laid out defense of the importance of reading. It serves as an apt reminder of how rewarding experiences of thoughtful engagements with literature can be, and how important such moments of silent concentration are in our increasingly technological world where we are expected to be continuously online.
Sarah E. Worth is Professor of Philosophy at Furman University. She has published widely on aesthetics and the philosophy of literature, including articles in Contemporary Aesthetics, Philosophy and the Contemporary World, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Journal of Aesthetic Education and the British Journal of Aesthetics.