Book Summary: “The Seven Joys of Reading” by Mary Wright Plummer (1856)

Being such a tiny little thing, one might think that Seven Joys really shouldn’t be reviewed as a book but rather as an article. Well, whatever. The 1925 edition I came across is bound as a book and is fit for the shelf of any self-respecting librarian or bibliophile, so I continue.

According to the introduction, Mary Wright Plummer was apparently a world famous librarian—something someone today might never have thought existed. Ah! how times have changed. She writes this little collection of thoughts in response to a prevailing belief in her time that librarians existed to catalog books, not read them, a belief that stemmed from the oft-misquoted, “The librarian who reads is lost” (5-6). I’d never heard this phrase, nor had I heard of this global failure of librarians, but yet again, times have changed.

In case this volume has been lost in antiquity, I will summarize rather than review Plummer’s seven joys of reading. Each joy requires a mite of explanation, as their titles may be misleading. And since Plummer shares with each joy some timely examples from her 19th-Century reading, I will update this summary with some examples from my own.

1) The joy of familiarity. This involves both rereading your favorite books and getting involved in long-standing serials, for you get to know the characters and settings like old friends, or old enemies. For me, this would be my reasoning for keeping up with Clive Cussler, whose characters grow only slightly with each new installment, whose settings are always new and exciting, and whose villains are all virtually the same power-hungry crazies bent on world domination.

2) The joy of surprise. This is not so much surprise at new insights and ideas but rather surprise that the “new” has really been around for millennia. As I listened to an interview with Suzanne Collins, author of Hunger Games, I was surprised to learn that even her relatively unique plot-line was based off the concepts of ancient Spartans and gladiators.

3) The joy of sympathy. This is the joy one finds in an author so similar in thinking that he’d likely become one’s best friend, if they knew each other in real life. For me, each time I read a Jerry Bridges book I recognize such a humble, common-sense approach to the Christian life that it feels like I’m chatting with a mentor over coffee.

4) The joy of appreciation. This joy comes as one simply appreciates how something is stated in the written form, for some authors are truly painters with words. As I thought about it, I recall really enjoying Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster, as much for his use of words as for what he actually said.

5) The joy of expansion. To quote Plummer, this is what makes “one rise from a book a changed being, with wider horizons, broader sympathies, deeper comprehensions, and no less firm a grip on the essentials because the non-essentials have been classified as such at last” (23). I still can feel the hunger and dirtiness of turn-of-the-century Chicago from Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle, a book I read in college, for he was a master in taking his readers right to the streets.

6) The joy of shock. This is the joy that comes from reading intellectuals who juggle the truth so their readers can barely recognize it. Plummer’s description and explanation were difficult to interpret, but I soon recognized that Ravi Zacharias writes with such a shocking flare, for he can spend 90% of any given book detailing the philosophies of the world only to finish his final 10% by destroying them in short order with the Truth of Jesus Christ.

7) The joy of revelation. This joy is based off Emerson’s claim that there is inspired reading as much as there is inspired writing. Whether Tony Reinke intended it or not, his Lit has forever changed my approach to reading, and its such revelation that keeps me reviewing his wise recommendations.

©2014 E.T.

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