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Why Read?

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  459 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
•A PSLA Young Adult Top 40 (or so) non-fiction title 2004
In this important book, acclaimed author Mark Edmundson reconceives the value and promise of reading. He enjoins educators to stop offering up literature as facile entertainment and instead teach students to read in a way that can change their lives for the better. At once controversial and inspiring, this is a grou
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2004)
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Jo Lisa
Apr 25, 2016 Jo Lisa rated it it was amazing
I think that this is an important book, particularly for the constant reader. The author's basic premise is that by reading, a person can change his/her life; making it better. He is critical of many liberal arts universities, saying that they are now more concerned with entertaining and bringing fun to the class. He gives countless quotes from the likes of Blake, Emerson, Freud, Wordsworth, etc. There are some particularly interesting ideas to me personally. He contends that if or when a person ...more
Jul 13, 2010 Kate added it
I had such high hopes for this book but found myself sorely disappointed. Edmundson has basically one point and, after expressing it clearly, spends the rest of the book being pretentious. His ramblings were intelligent and balanced, but ultimately pretentious and not as illuminating as his vocabulary would have you hope. That is just my opinion, but I admit that I am unlikely his intended audience (as he is also pretentious about his profession).
Nov 08, 2013 Bob rated it liked it
Shelves: higher-education
English departments are under attack in higher education. To be precise, courses that involve reading literature are under attack. Some people still prize being able to express oneself well in writing--maybe what we'll have down the road is simply "Writing Departments."

Not if Mark Edmundson has his way. Why Read? is an extended essay on the value of reading, an expansion of a widely circulated Harpers Magazine article. His answer might be quite surprising to those who have been around English De
Oct 26, 2013 Jeremy rated it liked it
Shelves: criticism
Approaching 150 books on the year, it doesn't seem that I would need to consult a book entitled "Why Read?". Still, I thought it would be an appropriate subject to ponder in my 200th review.

The basic takeaway points from "Why Read?" were:

1. Literature as a Life Guide: Edmundson believes that classic literature should be treated as suggestions for how we can/should live. When you read a great work of art, you should be asking: Can I live this? How would this work in practice? The author argues t
May 09, 2009 Michelle rated it liked it
Shelves: book-books
Hmm. I hardly know what to think of this book. I cheered at some parts, groaned at others.
The author, a humanities professor, wants us to reassess how (and why) we teach great literature. I was delighted at his well-aimed blows at over-analysis and literary criticism as ends in themselves, of the efforts of so many (including so many of my teachers) to distance the student from the work, telling us that its only value is to be picked apart as an intellectual exercise. This is fun for bright peo
Nov 02, 2013 SweetPea rated it it was ok
This should have been titled "Why Teach?" since that is what the book was about. There were a few interesting points but my general sense when reading this is that it was an example of why people consider readers pompous.
Jan 28, 2013 Stephanie rated it did not like it
It made me want to vomit. Author is pretentious and incredibly out-of-touch. He assumes a unified notion of "literature" and devalues any works outside the medium of print that might offer the same "transformation" he argues that the reading of literature can supply.
Beth Adams
Mar 07, 2016 Beth Adams rated it liked it
I don't need reasons to read and I wanted to love this but it was a slog for me to get through.
Very academic writing, on a noble topic. Lost me, tho and I gave up.
Sep 11, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A sane, prophetic voice from the world of literary criticism and academic English literature education--if more teachers were like Mark Edmundson, maybe things wouldn't be so bad. . .
Jul 03, 2014 Jill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
We read because we, as teachers and students of literature, are desperately passionate about books and authors. We read because we believe in possibility, because we believe that every human has their own personal path. These are all at play in Why Read?, but Edmundson only has one real answer to that question: we read because books provide characters (and, to a lesser and barely-described extent, situations) with which we somehow identify (positively or negatively), and these inspire and fire u ...more
Colin Cox
Jan 03, 2016 Colin Cox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why Read? pivots from a seemingly simple idea adapted from Richard Rorty: all of us have Final Narratives which are "the ultimate set of terms that we use to confer value on experience. It's where our principles are manifest" (25). According to Edmundson, these Final Narratives are precise ideological positions that guide how we behave and interact with the world around us (what else would one expect ideology to do?). The teacher's task, in this specific case the university professor's, is to us ...more
Eric Spreng
One thing I can say with conviction about this book—

It has pushed me to a greater Kindle-literacy: Never have I spent so much time grappling with the impossible keyboard of my Paperwhite than while reading this book.

Beyond that, where to begin?

Well, I find Edmundson’s take on the effects of this infusion of theory in literary studies to be compelling. When we can simply label, why read? — Borrowing words from disciplines we know not of and packing great work into neatly labeled ziplock bags — Ma
Nov 13, 2012 Mardra rated it liked it
I picked up this book because of personal identity crises. As a writer I wondered, why bother? What difference does reading make anyway? True to form, however ironic, I picked up a book to answer my question.

Unfortunately, disillusioned writers did not fall into Edmundson’s intended audience. He addressed the book to teachers and, to a lesser extent, students of the liberal arts at higher education levels. Consequently, this book’s style proved difficult to embrace in its early chapters. Senten
Sep 02, 2013 Josie rated it liked it
Read this for class. I found it interesting and generally pretty accessible, although at times it felt like Edmundson was using some words and phrases just to sound pretty or Meaningful.

Literature as life or lived philosophy is interesting. I don't agree that only literature with the aims of Saying Something About Life can do so, though, as Edmundson seems to be suggesting. And I'm feeling like the historicity that he is somewhat dismissive of is far more important to me; does it matter that Di
Mark Valentine
Mar 02, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it really liked it
I found this collection of brief essays to be a quiet classic. Edmundson writes in lucid sentences and is clearly very well read himself and so reading his paragraphs became a pleasure in two ways: The pleasure lies in the reading of his sentences, and in tracking his wisdom.

In particular, I value his reliance on reading using the mind and the heart. He works to debunk the assorted multiculturalisms and critical theories that have abounded in the recent decades in favor of reading for pleasure a
Greg Linster
Dec 20, 2011 Greg Linster rated it liked it
Why do we go to school? Is it for the credentials? Is it to learn some technical skills? Is it to learn how to live better? Is it for some other reason? Or is it for some combination of reasons? In a wonderful and emotionally charged essay in the Oxford American titled, “Who Are You And What Are You Doing Here“, Mark Edmundson challenges readers to think about what an education really ought to provide us. Education is not immune to economic analysis, but, before running a cost-benefit analysis, ...more
Jul 02, 2009 Gregg rated it really liked it
I picked this book up years too late. It's a full-throated defense of the humanities, but it applies more to teachers of literature. Edmundson argues that the true test of a work of literature is "Can I live by this?" and his discussion revolves around and around this question. Satisfyingly, I might add. He decries the use of the tools of literary criticism, be it Formalism, Multiculturalism, Historicism, or whatever, when the tools become the focus rather than the text itself. He uses extensive ...more
Manuel Antão
Oct 20, 2016 Manuel Antão rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Proust Comes to the Rescue: "Why Read?" by Mark Edmundson

Published September 5th 2005.

One of my favourite movies is Good Will Hunting. There’s a fine dialogue from the movie that popped in my mind when I was reading “Why Read?”. It goes something like this (it’s not verbatim):

Sean: Do you have a soul mate?
Will: What’s that?
Sean: A soul mate is someone you can relate to.
Will: Yes, I have lots.
Sean: Well, name a few.
Will: Shakespeare, Frye, Blake (I don’t remember the actual writers that were ment
Aug 30, 2007 Ashley rated it really liked it
Shelves: pedagogy
I would recommend this book to any college professor in the Humanities as a vital source of self-affirmation and a way to refocus your approach in the classroom, especially for those lower division studies courses that can be trying. Edmundson finds that professors have become too theoretically dependent in their classroom approaches, teaching theoretical application and dismissing the initial meaning and purpose of literature that draws us to it for hope. Weaving together thoughts from various ...more
Jun 10, 2013 N rated it really liked it
Last fall I read Edmundson's essay "Who Are You And What Are You Doing Here?," anthologized in _Best American Essays 2012_, a faux commencement address to liberal arts graduates that argues that the purpose of a liberal arts education is to help students figure out who they are and what they value. Because of that essay, I read this book, and as a teacher, reader, and writer, I'm glad I did. It posits that literature can serve as a guide for how to live our lives and that students who use litera ...more
William Schram
Why Read? Mark Edmundson answers this question by saying that it is to change and inspire someone to be better than they were before they read the book; to expand their horizons and introduce them to a new world. Edmundson usually uses pieces of literature for that and describes some of his experiences in teaching.

It also describes how the university experience is somewhat disappointing in how it merely acts as a diversion when it could be so much more than that. Of course you are getting knowle
Jil Larson
Mar 08, 2013 Jil Larson rated it liked it
This is a book that takes risks and generates thought and discussion, and I admire it for those reasons. I don't always agree with Edmundson's conclusions, particularly his advocacy of literature as a religion of sorts. I do believe, as he does, in the value of connecting with literary texts on personal and emotional levels and allowing them to shape our living. And I enjoyed his pinpointing of the excesses, absurdities, and dead-ends of many recent approaches to literary study. He makes a compe ...more
Aug 18, 2012 Sara rated it liked it
This book contained some provocative (and at the same time common sense) ideas about what the purpose of reading should be/how literature should be taught on the college level. I'd particularly recommend this book for teachers at all levels.

"The test of a book lies in its power to map or transform a life. The question we would ultimately ask of any work of art is this: Can you live it?" I recently moved from the East Coast to New Mexico. When I took a look on my shelves today at the books I alre
Jun 25, 2008 Tristesse rated it really liked it
This book has been a very timely read for me as I am about to start teaching English on Monday July 7th 2008. Edmundson is suggesting that teachers get to the core of each student by getting them to verbalize their Final Narrative. In doing so the student will be more able to discover life lessons in great literature and transform their Final Narrative. I particularly like the fact that his argument is for democratic humanism in the classroom which allows for all interpretations of literature, h ...more
John Jaksich
Jan 20, 2015 John Jaksich rated it really liked it
Professor Edmundson builds his arguments on purposeful reading for the sake of changing one's life and knowing oneself in truer light. He offers other well-thought-out reasons for studying great literature...but perhaps in this reader's eye the book offers reasons to write. The reasons for writing are to leave a positive impression upon the reader. From Herodotus to Bronte or Freud---reading great literature will inspire one to write (even if it is read by only a handful)---it can possess the ab ...more
Jun 22, 2016 Nathan rated it really liked it
This book has an interesting take on the role of reading in the classroom, though it's intention seems to lean more towards that of a college classroom. Still, there are some valuable lessons that I was able to take away from the book, thus making it worth my time reading. I particularly am interested to see how some of the ideas and concepts can be adapted in a middle school setting. I mean, who can argue with a book that asks us why we read and why reading is so important?
Trisha Owens
May 26, 2013 Trisha Owens rated it really liked it
This incisive book enjoins educators to teach using "democratic humanism"- addressing students with examples from the great writers and poets of our time. He states that "Offering past wealth to the present is what a scholar is supposed to do." Edmundson lobbies for the importance of reading by teaching it through asking the "big risk philosophical questions." I found this book to be quite insightful!
Aug 13, 2015 Jeremy marked it as gave-up-on
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
Tha book is terribly dense with language, a scholarly book if you will, and one with which I never really connected. In the end, I gave up as it drew most examples from poetry and philosophy, two areas I have very little interest in. The language, too, was a barrier. I found myself exerting too much effort trying to interpret the meaning of each sentence. Not an accessible book, or an interesting one, which is disappointing. Based on the title, and the description, I had high hopes.
Joseph Shafer
Jan 30, 2016 Joseph Shafer rated it really liked it
This book was a great argument for literature being an important part of proper human introspection. Good literature will breach subject matters that are not always comfortable, and serve as a mirror into our souls and minds. Why Read discussed how teachers should be willing to impose this on their students.
Sep 11, 2011 Catherine rated it really liked it
Written by an English professor, this book covers different schools of thought on analyzing and teaching literature and in a very general context discusses the values and pitfalls of a liberal arts education. I liked the emphasis on seeking what is meaningful to the individual reader rather than the overarching intent of the writer.
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“What Proust is describing is an act of self-discovery on the part of his reader. Immersing herself in Proust, the reader may encounter aspects of herself that, while they have perhaps been in existence for a long time, have remained unnamed, undescribed, and therefore in a certain sense unknown. One might say that the reader learns the language of herself” 0 likes
“In Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, there is a passage that gets close to the core of what a literary education should be about. The passage offers a deep sense of what we can ask from a consequential book. Proust speaks with the kind of clarity that is peculiarly his about what he hopes his work will achieve. In particular, he reflects on the relation he wants to strike with his readers. "It seemed to me," he observes, "that they would not be 'my' readers but readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers—it would be my book but with it I would furnish them the means of reading what lay inside themselves. So that I would not ask them to praise me or to censure me, but simply to tell me whether 'it really is like that.' I should ask whether the words that they read within themselves are the same as those which I have written.” 0 likes
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