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  • Writer's pictureDamon Young

TLS: why be a reader?

The Art of Reading was recently reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement.

In 'Another Heart Beating', Jenny Hendrix considers my book alongside two others: Ann Hood's Morningstar and Michelle Kuo's Reading With Patrick.

An excerpt: become a good reader is not that different from developing what used to be called “character”. As Young puts it, “Reading artfully requires a fragile poise between proclivities: thought and feeling, spontaneity and habit, deference and critique, haste and slowness, boldness and caution, commitment and detachment” – in other words, it asks for a balance of reason and desire, a kind of moderation. Like Aristotle, Young calls this balance “virtue” – in classical Greek arete or excellence – and he borrows Aristotle’s ethical paradigm to make sense of the requirements of the written word. In reading and in life, it would seem, excellence is that which enables the fullest expression of human nature. Young has selected six virtues that, in his view, books demand of us, and, drawing on a number of readers and writers who illuminate them, as well as on his own experience as a reader, and a field of reference so broad so to incorporate both Heidegger and Batman, attempts something like an ethical guide to the literary life. He has the kind of well-developed inner critic that these virtues support. In turn, he considers curiosity (delight in the movement of the intellect); patience (the ability to “bear ills”); courage (“avoiding the lust for control and conclusiveness”); pride (a pleasure in one’s own achievements); temperance (the balance of appetites); and justice (the ability to be a generous critic). In the end, justice encompasses all of these, and Young, his own inner critic well developed by the cultivation of such virtues, dubs it “excellence entire”.

Although he never uses the word, Young’s concept of justice relates to contemplation: a gift of attention, granting its object a sense of worth. Books acknowledge the worthiness of their subjects – but also that of their readers, which all books require…

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