The Joy of Reading
by Charles Van Doren
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
There are many books about the enjoyment of reading. Each of them share the joy gained from reading certain books the author has found to be uplifting or enlightening or simply entertaining. Emerson once said, "Tis the good reader that makes the good book;" as he shared his confidence in the reader to find a message in the book intended particularly for that singular reader. Whether the authors of books about reading find messages or merely memories, the words they write about their enjoyment and the books they accumulate in lists for other readers' pleasure are some of the most interesting words that I have encountered in my reading life.
Charles Van Doren is one of the best of these authors and the title of his book says it all; the book is about the joy a reader experiences. This joy is enhanced when exploring the best works of literature from the time of the Greeks and before until the twentieth century. Van Doren aims in particular at those readers with "the mind and heart of a reader of goodwill". That is the general reader who, like Charles Van Doren, finds reading their "favorite thing to do." I unabashedly count myself among that group and cannot remember a time when I have not had a book near at hand or, better yet, in my hand. The Joy of Reading follows a plan in that it includes only books that Charles Van Doren has "fallen in love with", and of those books he comments on both what the book is about and why one should read it. The selected books span several genres including novels, plays, poems, history, philosophy, essays, etc. As with all good books there is a helpful bibliography that suggests, when it is important, editions that the author found particularly helpful.
While this book did not begin my journey through great literature it has enriched it and provided a companion to turn to when I am in need of meditation on the favorites of someone who evinced what is truly the best in literature. I sometimes feel that I am like the reader described by Malcolm Bradbury when he said, " A true good read is surely an act of innovative creation in which we, the readers, become conspirators."
Do I agree with his all of his selections of favorite books? No, but they are all worth considering, exploring, reading for a while to see if I can find some of what he saw in them. Some I have made my own with readings and re-readings and some have been reserved for what I hope will be a prosperous reading future filled with more joy. Perhaps you, too, dear reader will share in "The Joy of Reading".
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