A philosopher and ardent bibliophile assesses desirable qualities—curiosity, patience, pride, courage, temperance, justice—applied to the reading and comprehension of literature, powers the attentive reader can learn to wield.
Young (How to Think About Exercise, 2014, etc.) offers a useful, erudite, and often arresting survey of philosophical thought featuring both renowned figures in the discipline (Plato, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Schopenhauer) and those less well known, as well as penetrating takes on novelists Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Henry James, and others. Scarcely a page goes by that Young is not quoting two or three other writers to underscore or illustrate a point, which proves to be a double-edged approach. Though illuminating, occasionally it smacks of ruminative padding. Throughout, the author expresses himself gracefully and remains grounded most of the time, though some passages are unnecessarily dense and overintellectualized, even for a philosopher. He also can take an entire essay to elucidate a principle that could be dealt with in a few paragraphs, and the narrative features engrossing arguments that, at times, can be carried too far. However, Young’s approach is agreeably individualistic and evenhanded. He presents, analyzes, and sometimes judges but always gives concepts a fair hearing. In youth, the written word gave the author liberty to think, perceive, and feel with greater awareness, a passion he communicates with verve. The book is of value to any serious reader but will be particularly instructive for young, insufficiently cautious literary critics, or critics in general. The most companionable chapter is the last, “The Lumber Room,” in which the author discusses the contents of his personal library—the source of many of his reflections and a sort of advance scout for ambitious readers.
While Young's latest may be the essence of bookish preoccupation, it is a worthy challenge to read bravely, to regard deeply, and to weigh ideas with discernment and generosity.