The Experience of Reading

The Experience of Reading

The Experience of Reading

The Experience of Reading

Synopsis

What really goes on inside human beings when they read serious books? InThe Experience of Reading, Philip Davis sets out to show that books matter most on a personal level. He gives a close account of the experience of thought and feeling that goes on inside a serious reader in the act of reading. He argues that reading is one of our few remaining forms of personal meditation. Davis's theory stems from a belief that reading offers much more than a mere escape into fantasy. As a professional teacher with a strong interest in a wider access to universities, Davis seeks to involve academics outside, as well as inside, the university framework, by using the modern novel as a means of linking the modern reader to other minds in other ages through an act of imaginative time travel. He links the modern reader to post-war novelists Malamud, Bellow, Lessing, and Middleton, yet his aim is far wider. Davis uses the modern novel as a starting-point in a search for a way ofbeing that takes in writers as diverse as Ben Jonson, Bunyan, Byron, Wordsworth, and George Eliot.

Excerpt

In Liverpool in 1986 I initiated a part-time ma course in Victorian Literature. It was a course which was intended to contribute towards the university's relationship to the city and the region, opening up an area of study to ordinary serious readers, of any age and background, outside the university system. This modest venture attracted nearly two hundred firm applications in under two months, as well as hundreds of phone-calls and letters of enquiry. Most of these people were looking for something: not just a degree, but a routine and a spirit, an organization and a community and a goal which would help them to find what was missing from their adult thinking. Some of the applicants had a previous higher degree but many were without any experience of further education and had made no formal study of English literature since school. Aged from twenty-two to seventy-two, they represented a wide range of background and experience, from lawyers to engineers, from mothers-at-home to retired executives. I chose Victorian Literature as the subject-matter because I believe that the nineteenth-century realistic novel is probably the most accessible form of serious culture, and I wanted people to bring to the course, undauntedly, something of their own experience.

Since then, hundreds of people in one city in England have wanted to join a course which offers them art for their sake. That is to say, the people I select for this course want literature not as form of history, politics, linguistics, philosophy or sociology, nor as a means of professional advancement, but purely for the sake of personal meditation and emotional education, involving feelings about ideas and ideas about feelings. I do not mean that they are encouraged to indulge themselves autobiographically, to gush with self-conscious confessionalism, at the expense of the books they are

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