André Alexis: Why Read?

The essay discusses David Shields’ novel How Literature Saved My Life, and how its ideas truly relate to many aspects of existence. Here is an extract:

One of the other things literature does is that it keeps the plates in the air, so to speak. Much thinking, in the humanities, has shifted from the answer-oriented to the question-centred. It’s a commonplace, these days, that what makes any idea vital is its capacity to keep the mind engaged. Shields seems to accepts this. About halfway through How Literature Saved My Life, he describes Annie Dillard’s essay This is the Life: “[Anne Dillard] establishes the problem, deepens the problem, suggests ‘solutions,’ explores the permutations of these solutions, argues against and finally undermines these solutions, returning us to the problem …” Shields adds that, as far as he’s concerned, this is his process as well: to see the problem (of the self, of literature, of loneliness, of meaning …) in its many permutations before, finally, seeing it anew.

For the full essay, visit

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