I was given a free digital copy of On Reading Well via NetGalley by Baker Academic & Brazos Publishing in exchange for this review. This review is entirely my own opinion.
On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books would not have been my first choice of book had I not already known the author. I had been in Dr. Prior's class for a few months when she told us that this long, academic phrase complete with a colon would be the title for her next book. She asked our opinion of it and several students who knew her much better than I (and who were much braver than I) shared their thoughts.
At the time, I was too intimidated by Dr. Prior to give her my full opinion: the title was obnoxiously long and odorously academic. A normal person browsing bookstore shelves wouldn't be interested in it unless they were specifically searching for a book about literature and Christian moral philosophy. And, if we're being honest, that's a tiny demographic.
Several months after that, God, in His wonderfully ironic way, positioned me as Dr. Prior's research assistant, which included work on that long titled book. Through typing quotes and website assembly, my love for On Reading Well grew. Seeing firsthand the amount of love Dr. Prior was pouring into her creation helped fuel mine, and by the time I saw the cover a few days before its release, I was practically bouncing with excitement.
In the months since that cover reveal, the work and love have only increased. Hours upon hours of my summertime were given to planning the on campus book launch party before my hands even touched a copy (digital or physical) of the book I was so passionately promoting. I knew I'd get a copy eventually— I had worked on it after all— and I believed that the book was good simply because I knew and trusted Dr. Prior.
When I finally read On Reading Well, the love that had developed through all of that work and trust was complete. The book was no longer an idea I promoted, but a reality with long fingers that pierced flesh and bone to reach my heart and soul.
The concept of a nonfiction book about virtues in twelve works of literature piercing into the reader's heart and soul will sound dramatic until you read it. Every chapter explains those virtues simply, which will be helpful to readers like myself who have little to no experience with Christian moral philosophy (check out David and Marybeth Baggett's The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God if you're interested in the moral argument for Christianity). Along with the virtue definition comes a lesson in the word's history and its meaning, so that readers understand exactly what is meant by words like kindness and how it differs from words we treat as synonyms but were not originally so (like the difference between bravery and courage).
And then comes the stories themselves. I was unfamiliar with most of the examined literature and I was nervous that such a lack would prevent me from fully appreciating On Reading Well despite my history with it and its author. Thankfully, Dr. Prior explains the storyline of each book (or short story) well, with a basic explanation of the plot and details for the scenes specifically used for the virtue lesson.
During and after each chapter, I found myself introspectively searching for the described virtue (or lack thereof) in my life. How am I temperate? Do I practice justice or just talk about it? Is my love selfish? What or who is my faith truly in? No matter my answers to these questions, the stories and Dr. Prior's personal anecdotes were reminders that I am not alone in my imperfect attempt at these virtues.
But now that I know more about them, I feel more responsible for exhibiting them. After all, how can one practice virtue if they don't truly know what it is? And once one knows what it is, isn't choosing the opposite practicing vice?
Do not pick up this book if you are not ready to handle that introspection or Godly conviction. I attempted to read the book while avoiding my quiet time with God and ended up in the chapter on diligence, which specifically mentions apathy in relationship to God. I couldn't finish the chapter that night. I had more important reading to do.
Pick up On Reading Well because God and the fruits of His spirit flow out of it. Each chapter will remind you of the goodness of practicing virtue and when you finish the last page you will feel spiritually fed and prepared to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.