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Why Read Why Read?

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Why read Why Read?

I really kind of got sucked into "Why Read" by Mark Edmunson by surprise, literary criticism is not my fortes, and I've never really fully understood the critical approach properly enough to get a good cohesive paper written. I also was drawn in by the author's suggestion that literature can be a new religion, a religion of sorts I could really believe in. I was also intrigued by his comments on modern pop culture. And then, on a plus side, it is a short book.

I personally like how the book is open and an easier read than other books I have picked up on literary criticism. He talk about the humanities field is a more normal sense, like when you have a teacher that talks to you as a person and not just a student. Gives you that boost of confidence that makes you feel that the teacher sees you as an equal.

He goes on to talk about how students today want entertainment from everything all the time. A good example of this is the Chevy commercial that shows either a lunchroom or a school bus with unruly kids and the teacher pulls down a DVD player from the ceiling and all the kids quiet and are enthralled. Edmunson continues on talking about how schools have to work around this new entertainment driven society or how the author puts it a more consumer driven society.

At the same time the point is brought up on how the English department as a whole has to almost market themselves as a fun major to take because the enrollees in the English majors is on a decline. Edmunson points out that in 1968 more than 21 percent of all bachelor degrees in America were humanities degrees; by 1993 that same total had fallen to 13 percent, and continues to fall. His next topic in response to this is one that I am personally conflicted on. He talks on how the humanities department has loosened up in order to draw in more students to the degrees. For instance losing up the grading system and relaxing on the requirements to earn the major. As a student I can't help but to admit I like it but at the same time I don't think that is right. As much as I want an easy grade, I want to be challenged. Getting an easy grade is great but you don't learn as much as you would have if you had to work harder for the grade.

He then brings in his take on religion, making a point to talk about the University of Virginia at which he teaches. Talking about how the university's founder, Thomas Jefferson, had at one time had book in the great rotunda of the school and looked to those books as his deities, so to speak. He described them as Jefferson's deities, invested with powers of transport and transformation equal to anything the great gods possessed. As much as I believe in a higher power I really liked how the author wrote this. Literature as a whole has a way of taking you many places as well as teaching you many lessons you may not realize at an initial reading.

He continues on bring up the subject of reading for truth and how absurd it sounds. He also explains that people read for truth because that the truth that we come to in society is not enough for us that we need to read to try and find a truth that we can believe in. He presents that that is why people go to literature and enter into the humanities major is to find the truth that fits them on a more personal level. And the way to find this truth is in the painters, poets, composers, novelists and historians. Taking the major and delving into the various arts that are presented there, gives the student another chance to find that universal truth that they believe and missed the first time around. Edmunson's description of society and how we come to make certain assumptions is what keeps me interested in this book. It is a fresh outlook, in my opinion, that to have an author and better yet a professor himself talk about literature and the humanities like this.

He then moves on to talk about what literary criticism ought to do when it looks at a text. The question a valuable critic should bring up when looking at

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