If the whole of the Christian life is to be governed by the law of love”the twofold love of God and one's neighborwhat might it mean to read lovingly? That is the question that drives this unique book. Jacobs pursues this challenging task by alternating largely theoretical, theological chaptersdrawing above all on Augustine and Mikhail Bakhtinwith interludes that investigate particular readers (some real, some fictional) in the act of reading. Among the authors considered are Shakespeare, Cervantes, Nabakov, Nicholson Baker, George Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Dickens. The theoretical framework is elaborated in the main chapters, while various counterfeits of or substitutes for genuinely charitable interpretation are considered in the interludes, which progressively close in on that rare creature, the loving reader. Through this doubled method of investigation, Jacobs tries to show how difficult it is to read charitablyeven should one wish to, which, of course, few of us do. And precisely because the prospect of reading in such a manner is so offputting, one of the covert goals of the book is to make it seem both more plausible and more attractive.
Alan Jacobs is professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois. He is the author of What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden's Poetry, A Visit to Vanity Fair and Other Moral Essays, and many essays of literary and cultural criticism. He is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Theological Horizons. With his wife and son, he lives in Wheaton, Illinois.
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