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Why Read?

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  356 ratings  ·  57 reviews
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 groundbreaking book written with the elegance and power to cha ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 5th 2005 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2004)
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Steve Sckenda
“Reading woke me up,” writes Mark Edmundson, humanities professor at the University of Virginia. He sees “creative reading” as a quest for truth that can redeem a life and set us on a voyage of self-discovery. Reading is as a way to acquire knowledge to live a better life. “The test of a book lies in its power to map or transform a life.” Books can lead us to be open enough to possibly adopt a better worldview than the one we currently hold. Books should be called canonical when, over time, t ...more
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
Dijon Chiasson
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
Jul 16, 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).
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
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
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
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.
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.
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. . .
John Jaksich
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
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
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
Greg Linster
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
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
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
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
I really enjoyed reading this book. Edmundson says much about literature, reading and teaching and much about how these three give us lives. Ultimately,this book is a statement about how essential the liberal arts are. And it is written in a simple, straightforward manner.
Jil Larson
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
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
I had to read this for my Senior Seminar over a period of 4 weeks...I really wish an entire 8 or 16 week period could be spent on this book alone. You really need time to explore everything that Edmundson is saying. So this will go on my bookshelf and when I'm completely done with school I'm going to teach myself a class based on this book. Way to many ideas to be explored.
Heidi Byerly
I didn't really expect to get a lot of this book to begin with, but it turned out to be really good. Very inspiring with surprises around every corner. It is written magnificently with amazing word choice.
A clearly written, cogent argument, based on faith in democracy, for teaching literature in ways that encourage student growth and self-development.
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
A real mix of great insights and mediocre digressions. More rhetorical questions than should be legal in one book, especially a slim volume.
Ahmad Moshrif
Unorganized book with very generic ideas.
KW Wong
An earnest plea for literary humanism.
Jordan Bible
Great book for future Educators
Dec 12, 2014 Angela marked it as to-read
Trisha Owens
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!
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Why Read 1 1 May 07, 2015 10:02PM  
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