An Altar Call for Backsliding Book People

Two authors encourage Christians to rededicate themselves to attentive, artful reading.

Among many evangelical literature-lovers (and likely many CT readers), Leland Ryken is a familiar name. Longtime (now emeritus) professor of English at Wheaton College, he is the author of numerous books, including The Christian Imagination and How to Read the Bible as Literature. In his latest offering, Recovering the Lost Art of Reading, he teams up with professional writer Glenda Faye Mathes to take on one of the ecclesial crises of our time (though not one that tends to make the headlines): By and large, Christians aren’t engaged in serious reading.

Ryken and Mathes set out to provide Christians with the reasons and tools they need to start reading again. Their overriding hope is that readers will find it easier to pick up a book and responsibly—indeed, artfully—lose themselves in it. (In this, their intentions overlap somewhat with those of Karen Swallow Prior in her 2018 work On Reading Well, although Recovering the Lost Art of Reading is a very different book.)

Ryken and Mathes describe their project as addressing “first the concept of reading as a lost art, then distinctive features of various types of literature and tips for reading them, and finally, ideas for ways to recover reading.” To put it more plainly, the book asks and responds to three questions: What is literature? Why should Christians read it? And what do they need to know (either about literature or about why they’re not reading it) before they can read it well?

While Recovering the Lost Art of Readingisn’t exactly literary criticism, it brings aspects of a literary-critical engagement to would-be readers and provides insight into things like the difference between literary and nonliterary uses of language, the …

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