Lifelong Reading

Sponsored by the Humanities Center’s Public Humanities initiative, faculty from the College of Humanities taught a series of Education Week classes on lifelong reading.


PROVO, Utah (Aug. 22, 2014)—In a series of Education Week classes, faculty from the College of Humanities taught the value of lifelong reading.

Once Upon a Time: Reading Fairy Tales Your Whole Life Long

Jill Rudy, an associate professor of English, began the series with a quote from Brigham Young: “Education is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world’s work, and the power to appreciate life.” Rudy added, “We’re about that this week. We’re about this as a people.”

She explained that this quote creates a good frame as fairy tales are read. “Sometimes fairy tale characters skip these parts”—think clearly, act well, and appreciate life—“But that’s all the more invitation for us to engage our minds.”

Variations of stories can help readers see into their own lives. Rudy said, “As I’ve been reading through Education Week classes, there are plenty of topics dealing with everyday life. What would happen if we paired fairy tales to everyday life?” She explained that fairy tales allow the reader to look at life situations from a distance and ask, “How would I handle that situation?”

Rudy explained the importance of thinking critically and seeing the light within stories. “Part of what we do as English professors is try to show the light that can be there.”

“Out of the Best Books”: The Spiritual Importance of Reading Secular Literature

George Handley, a professor of comparative literature, followed Rudy with a class on the spiritual value of reading secular literature. He told class participants: “Give yourself more time for thinking. We’re stewards of our minds and of languages.”

Handley said that most entertainment is passive—“We want to turn the brain off when we watch TV.” But he argued that a lifelong commitment to literature can be extraordinarily beneficial.

He said the Church encourages us to cleave unto all that is good. As people immerse themselves in literature, they have a greater capacity to recognize what is cheap and what is good. Furthermore, the restoration is about “the restoration of all truth.” He quoted Brigham Young saying, “Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind has been given by direct revelation from God…to prepare the way for the ultimate triumph of truth, and the redemption of the earth from the power of sin and Satan.”

Reading also teaches compassion. “Reading novels teaches us to feel the life and mind of other people,” Handley said. He added that such reading can even create a divine experience. “When we experience wonder and beauty of existence through the eyes of a great writer, we feel a connection to God.”

Like Rudy, Handley explained that reading literature also allows one to step outside of one’s own experiences and see with the eyes of an outsider. “Literature teaches us to see ourselves.”

Handley concluded by sharing his own experiences with authors Marianne Robinson and Derek Walcott, whose works and lives have inspired their readers, including Handley.

Family Reading: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and their Peers

Following Handley, Leslee Thorne-Murphy, an associate professor of English, discussed the advent of family reading during the nineteenth century. As a result of new print technologies, an increasing literate population and the fast-paced lifestyle brought by the industrial revolution, Victorian authors wrote stories meant to be read aloud in families. These family narratives depicted family issues in intriguing and complex ways.

Using the example of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, Thorne-Myrphy said, “You can read A Christmas Carol as a contemplation on the family as a solution to the woes of the world.”

Likewise, Silas Marner by George Eliot is a “beautiful mediation on what we would call a non-traditional family.”

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is “the kind of novel that really changes your perspective on life,” Thorne-Murphy said, as Bronte asks us to mediate on how to make family relationships function in spite of human failings.

Thorne-Murphy discussed Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and various Charlotte Yonge novels.

“This is literature that is aimed at a family readership and that looks at family issues in intricate and innovative ways,” and that encouraging readers to make connections to their own lives, Thorne-Murphy said.

To Become Acquainted with Languages, Tongues and People

Finishing off the Education Week class series, Matthew B. Christensen, a professor of Chinese, spoke on the importance of becoming acquainted with other languages and cultures.

Christensen shared many statistics about foreign languages, including that 75 percent of earth’s population don’t understand English and 90 percent of Americans don’t speak a foreign language.

Learning a foreign language allows people to develop and maintain relationships, Christensen said.

He outlined many benefits to knowing a second language, including participating in global commerce, providing job advantages, handling national security and diplomacy, accessing foreign cultures, and expanding the mind and understanding the world.

Christensen also said how the Church is making efforts to provide church materials in foreign languages so people can access the gospel in their native language.

Christensen encouraged class participants to learn a new language, maintain what they know, learn other cultures, and read broadly. “Languages open doors, promotes empathy and understanding, and helps us to see things differently.

The Lifelong Reading class series was sponsored by the Humanities Center. For more information, visit their website.

—Stephanie Bahr Bentley BA English ’14