★ Publishers Weekly starred review
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.
Prior (Booked), English professor at Liberty University, enthuses about the transformative power of reading in this lively treatise on building character through books. Prior uses classic works of literature to examine 12 central virtues including prudence, courage, faith, love, patience,and humility and their corresponding vices. For example, when writing on the virtue of diligence, she uses John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to demonstrate how the life of a Christian is one of ongoing sanctification. Prior ruminates on characters and stories written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Shusaku Endo, and Flannery O'Connor, among others, and does a great job of naturally weaving in a valuable education along the way. Prior provides not only insights into the narratives themselves, but also lessons on things such as the etymology of words (there is a sharp difference, for instance, between the meanings of kind and nice). The most valuable passages are those where Prior shares her personal reflections on the literary works she loves, how they relate to Christian culture, and the ways literature can influence readers toward spiritual growth and maturity. With exquisite writing, she demonstrates how "reading literature, more than informing us, forms us."