“Is reading a lost art? Is reading even an art in the first place?”
These two questions may arise as you pick up the book, Recovering the Lost Art of Reading. Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes have written a logical and coherent guidebook to show all readers how to discover (or rediscover) the delight of reading literature on our quest to uncover the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Although this triad is coined by Plato, Christians can embrace this framework for understanding and enjoying literature as it reflects our God who is the ultimate source and embodiment of truth, goodness, and beauty. At the heart of harnessing the rich art of reading is the contemplation of epistemology (how to know truth), morality (goodness), and aesthetics (beauty) as they are accentuated in a text.
Some texts display these themes in their affirmation of biblical standards of truth, goodness, and beauty. However, other texts—such as a Shakespearean tragedy, for example—display the wickedness of the human heart, thereby highlighting our need for God’s sanctifying work as the depravity of our own sinful disposition is manifested. As such, when we read literature, we can ask questions like: “How is it true? How is it good? How is it beautiful?” Whether you get an answer in the affirmative or in negation, reading good literature from this framework inculcates a desire to look beyond the text, fixing our eyes on Him who is the perfect manifestation of truth, goodness, and beauty.
As for the structure of this book, part one begins by answering three foundational questions: “Is reading lost? Why have we lost it? Why consider reading an art?” These three pillars are the presuppositions on which the rest of the book is built upon. Part two is supremely practical as it defines literature, why it matters, and what it offers—subsequently followed by tips on reading various genres of literature. This section alone is worth the price of the book as the authors offer a framework of reading diverse types of literature, equipping readers to enjoy and interpret books from a Christian worldview. Currently, the dominant philosophy that undergirds literary interpretation in the school curriculum is the death of the author, a concept that says that the author’s intent is subservient to one’s self-seeking subjective interpretation. With this principle, almost any interpretation of a text is valid, so long as you can twist the author’s words to support your thesis, even if it contradicts the author’s intention.
In response, a Christian framework of reading values the author’s intent; seeks to understand and contemplate the words as they were originally crafted with respect to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful; and tries to understand how it reflects God and humanity. Finally, part three of the book portrays a positive vision for recovering the art of reading to help motivate us to dig deeper into the rich heritage of literature available at our fingertips.
In sum, against the backdrop of a culture that has lost the art of reading, Ryken and Mathes clearly underscore the values of rediscovering the Truth, the Good, and the Beautiful from a Christian worldview. The simple, coherent, and progressive structure makes reading this book both easy and fruitful. If you want to go on a quest to unpack the delight of literature, I commend this book as an apt guide on that journey.
On a tangential note, to explore the wealth of the literary history that shaped Western civilisation from a Protestant worldview, you may be interested in the newly established liberal arts college in Sydney, Emmanuel College, their curriculum in literature seeks to explore poetry, drama, polemics, etc. from various epochs with a solid grounding in Reformed Theology. [KS1]
– Koh Saito