Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
Karen Swallow Prior
I still remember the first book I read that I was not supposed to. A book stirred something of an uproar in my small, conservative Idaho town when our teacher started to read it to our 4th grade class. The parents, having literally judged the book by its cover, were certain it was not safe. Depicted on the front was a half man, half horse with wings flying over a disembodied green head with red glowing eyes that had been encased in a blue sphere, which itself was hovering in a valley between dark, formidable peaks. OBVIOUSLY symbols of the occult or New Age thought! Then of course, there were three “witches”: Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which.
The book never stood a chance. Our teacher was “asked” not to continue reading us the book, and the teacher, with obvious frustration, removed the book from the bookshelves of our classroom. The book was, of course, the classic work by Madeleine L’Engle A Wrinkle in Time, and since I have learned that my experience was not unique to my little town and elementary, or even to that particular book.
When I finally did take a chance and read the book, I was surprised to find the book was chock full of truth that the people who railed against the book embraced. It was the classic story of good versus evil; courage in the face of trial; finding an identity that does not conform to the patterns of the world; and the love of family, just to name few of the themes that resonated with the values of my community. It was then that I began to learn about the importance of reading books from many perspectives, or what Karen Swallow Prior calls “promiscuous reading,” an idea borrowed from John Milton.
In her work Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Prior shares with the reader a memoir of her life as a reader, showcasing the most important works that shaped her over time. She begins with John Milton and his book Aeropagitica, which outlines a case for the discerning reader to read as much as he or she can, whether a book is contains truth or not. The reason is because truth is something that must be discovered over time, she says, and to shield oneself (or others for that matter) from reality and competing ideas is to stunt the process that allows truth to rise up to the top.