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Why Read? Mark Edmundson's New Book

abstract: In this technological age, statistics show reading is down. What individual and societal effect does this fact imply? Why should we care? Beyond all we are taught in school, the morals we learn from family while growing up—only reading, Edmundson argues, can shape our thoughts, opinions, actions as adults.

article:

August 02, 2004
— Mark Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia. A prizewinning scholar, he has published a number of works of literary and cultural criticism, including Literature Against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida as well as a memoir, Teacher: The One Who Made a Difference. He has also written for such publications as the New Republic, the New York Times Magazine, the Nation, and Harper’s, where he is a contributing editor.

"To me, the best way to think about reading is as life's grand second chance. All of us grow up once: we pass through a process of socialization. We learn about right and wrong and good and bad from our parents, then from our teachers or religious guides. Gradually, we are instilled with the common sense that conservative writers like Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson thought of as a great collective work. To them, common sense is infused with all that has been learned over time through trial and error, human frustration, sorrow and joy. In fact, a well-socialized being is something like a work of art.

Yet for many people, the process of socialization doesn't quite work. The values they acquire from all the well-meaning authorities don't fit them. And it is these people who often become obsessed readers. They don't read for information, and they don't read for beautiful escape. No, they read to remake themselves. They read to be socialized again, not into the ways of their city or village this time but into another world with different values. Such people want to revise, or even to displace, the influence their parents have had on them. They want to adopt values they perceive to be higher or perhaps just better suited to their natures." Aug 1,2004 NewYorkTimes Magazine

Walt Whitman was influenced by Emerson, a generation was influenced by Malcolm X.

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Mark Edmundson’s Harper’s Magazine article “On the Uses of the Liberal Arts” is reported to be the most photocopied essay on college campuses over the last five years. Ruminating on his essay and the intense reaction to it, Edmundson exposes universities’ ever-growing consumerism at the expense of a challenging, life-altering liberal arts education.

Teacher, Mark Edmundson (Vintage 2003) When Frank Lears, a small, nervous man wearing a moth-eaten suit, arrived at Medford fresh from Harvard University, his students pegged him as an easy target. Lears was unfazed by their spitballs and classroom antics. He shook things up, trading tired textbooks for Kesey and Camus, and provoking his class with questions about authority, conformity, civil rights, and the Vietnam War.

 

 

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