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Reading is one of the few distinctively human activities that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.
In fact, reading good literature won't make a reader a better person any more than sitting in a church, synagogue or mosque will. From Great Expectations I learned the power the stories we tell ourselves have to do either harm and good, to ourselves and to others; from Death of a Salesman I learned the dangers of a corrupt version of the American Dream; from Madame Bovary, I learned to embrace the real world rather than escaping into flights of fancy; from Gulliver's Travels I learned the profound limitations of my own finite perspective; and from Jane Eyre I learned how to be myself.
These weren't mere intellectual or moral lessons, although they certainly may have begun as such.
It is in this distinction that we find the real difference between the warring factions in what might be a chicken-or-egg scenario: Does great literature make people better, or are good people drawn to reading great literature?
Currie is asking whether reading great literature makes readers more moral -- a topic taken up by Aristotle in Poetics (which makes an ethical apology for literature).
Rather, the stories from these books and so many others became part of my life story and then, gradually, part of my very soul. Peterson explains in Eat this Book, "Reading is an immense gift, but only if the words are assimilated, taken into the soul -- eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight." Peterson describes this ancient art of lectio divina, or spiritual reading, as "reading that enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes ...
love and wisdom." More than the books themselves, it is the skills and the desire to read in this way which comprise the essential gift we must give our students and ourselves.
It is "spiritual reading" -- not merely decoding -- that unleashes the power that good literature has to reach into our souls and, in so doing, draw and connect us to others.
This is why the way we read can be even more important than what we read. As I relayed in my literary and spiritual memoir, the books I have read over a lifetime have shaped my worldview, my beliefs, and my life as much as anything else.
Is the material meant for specialists, students, or the general public?
Is it focused on a specific subject or is it a general survey of a wider subject?