I love books. I love people that love books. I love books about books by people that love books.
Karen Swallow Prior is an English Professor, writer, and essayist. She has written a memoir highlighting the books (and poems) that have changed her life and made her who she is today.
Each chapter highlight a book and then uses that book to help tell the story of her life. Sometimes the book helps her to learn, sometimes the book helps her to explain. But in each case, it is her as a reader that comes through.
I am biased to like Booked because I loved the first chapter. The first chapter defending John Milton’s idea of ‘reading promiscuously’ is exactly my understanding of reading.
In the midst of the English Civil Wars, when the price for a wrongheaded idea might well be one’s head, Milton argued passionately in this treatise that the best way to counteract falsehood is not by suppressing it, but by countering it with truth. The essence of Milton’s argument is that truth is stronger than falsehood; falsehood prevails through the suppression of countering ideas, but truth triumphs in a free and open exchange that allows truth to shine. This was, I think, the essence of my parents’ approach to their children’s reading…
Between the beginning and the end, there were many places where I identified with Ms Prior. But I was also introduced to a lot of books I have not read. When I was a teen, I spent a lot more time reading about aliens and magicians than about 18th and 19th century romance. But Prior’s love of the books has made me want to pick some of them up. Which is exactly why I love reading books by people that love books.
I do wish that there were some books that were a bit more modern, more ‘trashy’. Not that I am looking for the illicit, but an understanding that reading is more than the classics. Prior references reading Stephen King and other popular fiction. But the popular fiction is never the focus. I wish for just one chapter that she could have looked at something that was not quite as ‘classic’.
I did love the ending.
Promiscuous reading has humbled me in showing me that “there is nothing new under the sun.” As real and as important as any questions I have might be, I’ve seen that they are not unique to me. There is comfort in this, and chastening, too. Somewhere between universal truth and utter solipsism is a unique self, but the preponderance of that self, like all other selves, is the image of God that all selves share. There’s more of him in us—in me—than anything else. Even the ability to doubt him, to struggle against him, to wonder at his ways is rooted in him. Certainty seems bigger than me, skepticism smaller. Wonder is just right. The line between wonder and doubt is blurry sometimes.
If you love reading, this is a book that is well worth picking up.