Howard Jacobson: In Praise of Bad Boys’ Books (Guardian, 6th October 2012)


While I don’t entirely agree with the whole piece, I thought it worth mentioning purely for the paragraph in which the author describes the effect of reading upon the reader:

Whence redemption as a measure of literature’s worth, and how to justify it given how little in the way of atonement on the Christian model, ie deliverance from sin; and how little in the way of intelligibility on the rationalist model, ie deliverance from fragmentation, so many of the world’s great novels countenance?

I shouldn’t pretend not to understand what in fact I understand only too well. I was a “reverence for life” man – “see life steadily and see it whole” – in my days as a lecturer in English lit. We are, I argued, if not exactly “saved” by reading, at least partially “repaired” by it: made the better morally and existentially. To those who found that idea fanciful I would put the question: when were you last mugged on the Underground by someone carrying Middlemarch in his pocket? We read to extend our sympathies, to see ourselves in others and others in ourselves, to educate our imaginations, to find liberation from the prison of the self, to be made whole where we are broken, to be reconciled to the absurdity of existence, in short to be redeemed from flesh, the ego and despair.


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