I fancy myself an omnivorous reader: someone who enjoys both fiction and non-fiction – although nowadays certainly more of the former – and capable of extracting just as many intellectual and imaginative nutrients from an X-Men comic as I can a Victorian masterpiece.
As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I try not to discriminate based on genre or form: if you’ve got an open mind and time to experiment you can find great writing and powerful storytelling everywhere.
(Except maybe in romance writing, that stuff is just turgid drivel.)
In Australian philosopher Damon Young I sense something of a kindred spirit.
He’s a heck of a lot smarter than I am – a quintessential Deep Thinker as any philosopher must surely be – but he too believes in the benefits of a wide reading diet. In his new book The Art of Reading he’s just as comfortable enthusing about Frank Miller’s Batman as he is Friedrich Nietzche; spends almost as much time talking about his addiction to Star Trek novelisations as he does Aristotle.
Well not quite, if only because he structures his book around Aristotelian ethics. Each chapter is devoted to what he regards as a reading virtue: patience, curiosity, courage, pride, temperance and justice.
It’s a clever device that lets him ask and explore a number of questions abut reading. What is the value of it? What’s the best way to do it? Why do some people love reading and others find it a chore? How do we engage with books and imbue them with meanings, only some of which the authors actually intended? And how cool is Batman?
The book is at its best when Young strays into autobiography and shares anecdotes about the books and reading experiences that shaped him. There’s not enough of these sections though – his book is ultimately more ambitious than a straightforward reading memoir.
It’s a short book but dense with ideas: many of which, if I’m being honest, went over my head. Young is a fine and accessible writer – a pop philosopher – but he also insists that readers keep pace with his impressive intellect.