The Risk of Reading by Robert P. Waxler

In promoting this title by Robert P. Waxler ( the risk is that I’m preaching to the converted. After all, this is a book review page. Its readers are presumably already convinced of the value of the written word. We should never, though, tire of the assertion that long and deep reading leads to a quality of understanding unobtainable by any other kind of human endeavour. This is particularly necessary in our age of 140 character long messages, 3 second long attention spans, garbage television, hypertext, instant gratification, trite sound bites, utter fatuity, and Twitter. All this is the opposite of the slow and deep reading which leads to wisdom.

The deep reading of which I speak is risky, according to Robert P. Waxler, because it teaches us “about who we are and where we are located in the midst of complexities in the world.” Deep reading disturbs the complacencies of both ignorance and certitude. It can make you unhappy, challenge your most cherished presuppositions. A life without reading is for those who prefer not to be bothered with inconvenient narrative or exposed to a different point of view.

Having paid homage to deep reading in his introductory chapter, Waxler puts the fruits of the activity on display. He examines nine texts in as many chapters: Genesis, Frankenstein, Alice in Wonderland, Heart of Darkness, The Old Man and the Sea, Catcher in the Rye, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fight Club, and The Sense of an Ending. This is followed by a chapter on the future of linguistic narrative — not a prediction or prophecy but a call to pensive action. These books have it all — sex, violence, death, sin, rebellion. They are all risky. Waxler encourages us to face our vulnerabilities and insecurities by being ever mindful of the nuances and possibilities of language and story. His subjects proceed chronologically, Genesis being the oldest text and The Sense of Ending, which was published just four years ago, the most recent. What the texts have in common, according to Waxler, is that they all provide equipment for living richer and more meaningful lives.

In summary, The Risk of Reading is a passionate and provocative account of why literature matters. Waxler provides a practical guide to major works of classic and popular fiction, and a powerful and sophisticated argument for the ethical and intellectual value of reading. Risk reading it.

Enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic detail

200 pages in Bloomsbury

First published 20 November 2014

ISBN 978-1623563578

Professor Robert P. Waxler

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