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Irish Times: portrait of the author as a reader

December 23, 2017

Sneaking in before the end of the year, there's a review of The Art of Reading in this weekend's Irish Times. Reviewer Andrew Gallix from 3AM magazine rightly notes some gaps in my work, then turns to the book's premise. A generous, observant analysis.

 

In the expository chapter Young navigates his way round the labyrinthine shelves of his own Library of Babel, travelling back and forth in time, both personal and historical. His early passion for Sherlock Holmes was shared by William Gibson, whose evocation leads – “[T]wo shelves under” him – to Orhan Pamuk’s reflections on childhood perusal and then on to Edith Wharton’s – “[T]wo rooms behind and one century before him” – and from thence to Rousseau, Sartre, de Beauvoir (close to the former “in [his] library as in life”) and so on. Taking in Batman as well as Heidegger, the breadth of reference is impressive, but never overbearing, thanks to the Australian philosopher’s lightness of touch, self-deprecating humour and endearing deployment of the word “bunkum”. Having traced a desire path through a lifetime of books, Young reflects upon six Aristotelian virtues (curiosity, patience, courage, pride, temperance and justice) that reading requires, exhibits or promotes.


The Art of Reading is not just another bibliomemoir; it is also a manifesto of sorts. The author shuns a utilitarian approach to his subject – regarded as “an end in itself” – summarily listing its ancillary benefits with a commendable degree of scepticism. After all, “bastards enjoy fiction too” and, as he cheekily points out, some of them are authors. His ambitious goal is to re-enchant an activity which, “cosmically speaking”, is very much “against the odds”. Reading, he laments, is grossly undervalued, its wonders all too soon forgotten.

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© 2017 - Damon Young - www.damonyoung.com.au