The History of “Loving” to Read

by Rachel Baker on February 4, 2015

I found this article today about Loving Literature: A Cultural History, by Deidre Shauna Lynch. Its not a review, as much as a reflection on the information in the book.

Articles such as this, where instead of a review, the author reflects on a book, gives so much more information about a book than a straight review. I don’t care what the book is about or what you thought it should rate in stars or on a 1-5 scale. I want to know if it moved you and how. I want to know what you learned from the book, or just as importantly, what you didn’t.

Read the Article: The History of “Loving” to Read

In “Loving Literature: A Cultural History,” Deidre Shauna Lynch, a professor of English at Harvard, shows us that it wasn’t always this way. For a long time, people didn’t love literature. They read with their heads, not their hearts (or at least they thought they did), and they were unnerved by the idea of readers becoming emotionally attached to books and writers. It was only over time, Lynch writes—over the century roughly between 1750 and 1850—that reading became a “private and passional” activity, as opposed to a “rational, civic-minded” one.

To grasp this “rational” approach to reading, Lynch asks you to transport yourself back to a time when, in place of today’s literary culture, what scholars call “rhetorical” culture reigned. In the mid-seventeen-hundreds, a typical anthology of poetry—for example, “The British Muse,” published in 1738—was more like Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations” than the Norton Anthology. The poems were organized by topic (“Absence,” “Adversity,” “Adultery”); the point wasn’t to appreciate and cherish them but to harness their eloquence in order to impress people. Today, when you browse, you don’t conceive of yourself as wandering a hallowed storehouse of treasured literary wisdom—you’re just rummaging around, looking for something that sounds good and expresses the right idea. In a rhetorical culture, Lynch writes, “poetry offers itself to readers not as a love object, but rather as a source of instruction in how to speak fair . . . and thus in how to woo love objects and advance in the world.” Basically, it’s all BrainyQuote.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter.

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