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by Anna Quindlen

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-345-42278-3
Publisher: Ballantine

This brief in favor of reading is every bit as gooey and obvious as its title would indicate. Once again we are reminded that a book is like a frigate, that books have made knowledge available to the masses, that there is a certain “despotism of the educated,” an academic snootiness, that disparages popular reading (one of Quindlen’s college professors disdained Galsworthy, a writer Quindlen then adored). While Quindlen professes herself to be democratic in matters of taste, she seems caught in the self-contradiction that is inevitable when one declares that all reading is valuable’serving to expand the mind, heart, and imagination—while also trying to reserve room for the exercise of critical judgment. Still, despite the fact that Pulitzer-winning journalist and novelist Quindlen (One True Thing, 1994; Black and Blue, 1998) is preaching to the choir, she relates some charming and amusing anecdotes, such as the time her mother hurled the latest Book-of-the-Month Club selection across the room, leaving the offensive volume for a teenage Anna to pick up—it was Portnoy’s Complaint: “Didn’t she know that I would . . . [hear] her distress signal as the clarion cry to forbidden fruit?” She astutely goes on to note that “it was not so much the sex as the sedition in the book that I found seductive.” From Martin Luther to Betty Friedan, she notes, sedition has been the point of the written word. Her own writing here, alas, lacks both sedition and seduction.