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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Learning to read — seriously

Stephen L. Carter was a math-science nerd at Ithaca High, when his 10th-grade English teacher, Judith Dickey, taught him to read — read the hard stuff.

I read voraciously, but my choices were filling my head with junk. My mind was agile but not disciplined; quick but not reflective; I was much better at snappy answers than thoughtful ones. . . . she offered me a deal. She would read any three books I gave her if I would read any three books she gave me. Then we would get together after school to talk. I agreed. Best deal I ever made.

He began reading serious literature. In college, where he switched his major from physics to history, he read the great books in Western Civ classes.

 (Dante haunts me still.) I devoured Greek drama, medieval philosophy, Russian absurdist stories, and the novels of Updike and Baldwin. In my spare time I prowled the stacks of the campus library, in search of authors of whom I had never heard.

“Reading serious literature . . . promotes deep and reflective thought,” concludes Carter. “Serious literature teaches us the complexity of our fellow human beings. And a taste for complexity is exactly what we need, especially in these strained times.”

A Yale Law professor, Carter is a best-selling novelist.

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