A reading for my cubmaster
I wish I had been able to bring a copy of John Carey's The Unexpected Professor on that long-ago cub camp. Carey is a semi-retired scholar of English literature, and his autobiography describes his progress from a lower middle class childhood through a grammar school to Oxford, where he was often treated as a second-class scholar, and his subsequent attempts to subvert the class prejudices of England's hoariest universities.
After reading Carey's story, I understand some of the rage that fills his most controversial book, The Intellectuals and the Masses, which has the subtitle Pride and Prejudice Amongst the Literary Intelligentsia and argues that great innovators of early twentieth century British literature like TS Eliot and HG Wells were motivated by distrust or hatred of a newly educated working class.
Carey's autobiography ends with a wonderful chapter in defence of reading. I would have liked to have shown that vigilant and bibliophobic cubmaster Carey's words.
So, in the end, why read?
There are as many answers to that question as readers. My answer is that reading opens your mind to alternative ways of thinking and feeling. Read Richard Dawkins and you think and feel one way about religion. Read George Herbert and you think and feel another. Book-burners try to destroy ideas that differ from their own. Reading does the opposite. It encourages doubt.
Reading punctures pomp...Remember Melville in Moby Dick, 'O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease'.
Reading is contemptuous of luxury. Remember George Eliot writing about Rosamon Vincy in Middlemarch: 'in poor Rosamond's mind there was not room enough for luxuries to look small in'.
Reading makes you see that ordinary things are not ordinary. Remember Keats: 'The setting sun will always set me to rights, or if a sparrow come before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.'
...Reading is vast, like the sea, but you can dip into it anywhere and be refreshed. Reading takes you into other minds and makes them part of your own. Reading releases you from yourself. Reading is freedom. Now read on.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]