Reading may be private act, but it has always had a social dimension.

Reading has always been at the heart of Jesuit education. In the 1940s, English courses at Jesuit high schools were built around a four-volume series, “Prose and Poetry,” which included Prose and Poetry for Appreciation, by Elizabeth Ansorge, and Prose and Poetry for Enjoyment, by Julian L. Maline. Courses featured different categories each year, focusing on English and American literature. They included novels, short stories, poems and Shakespearean plays, including “The Merchant of Venice” and “Julius Caesar.” In the 1960s, when I was teaching high school, other standards were All Quiet on the Western Front, The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Dubliners, Mr. Blue and A Canticle for Leibowitz. When I was dean of Holy Cross college in the early 1980s, we compiled “The Holy Cross 100 Books,” 120 pages of reflections on works recommended by members of the faculty. My favorites were Walden and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Why read? Because books embody a civilization, help us to mature and give us power. We can nourish the spirit that opens us to the presence of the Creator. Above all they allow us to share the intimate lives of our fellow men and women. The word is empathy. We can feel what a novel’s characters are feeling and, in turn, relate to our fellow readers. Reading allows readers to adopt a sensitivity they can apply to other relationships, even to mankind at large.

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Why read? Because books embody a civilization, help us to mature and give us power.

In this first issue of the Literary Review, we contemplate the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States entry into World War II. We also remember James Baldwin and admire the documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on an unfinished text by Baldwin. We recall James Joyce’s APortrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the author’s relationship with the Jesuits. We interview Michael Wilson, a popular columnist for The New York Times, who discovers and interprets crimes that challenge our imagination.

Karen Sue Smith’s analysis of the paintings of Bosch and Brueghel tells the story of how Western art in the 16th century progressed from topics of history and religion to spectacular depictions of everyday life. Monsignor George Deas’s review of a new biography of Martin Luther allows us to see Luther as a great man, though not a saint.

Other reviews deal with President Obama, Cervantes and the history of Fordham University.

Reading is often described as a private act, although you can still find people in the subway reading physical books or e-readers. We may use reading as an escape and move to a beach retreat or travel to another country and close the door to be alone with a given work. Yet inevitably, authors like Henry David Thoreau, James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, Joan Didion, Agatha Christie, Tom Wolfe and Richard Ford will pop up in the room and want to talk.

They remind us that reading has always had a social dimension. Until television intruded, friends, husbands and wives would read to one another, and even today a major role for a parent is sitting down with a pre-kindergarten child, reading aloud and further knitting the bonds of love between the parent and the wide-eyed son or daughter. In college or in a parish book club, where idea-hungry students or neighbors gather, John Hersey’s presence will inevitably disturb. The class or club has read Hiroshima and knows the author visited the scene of the bombing before he wrote the book. They have all read it and perhaps have written a one-page comment, talked about it before gathering and asked whether it describes a “victory,” a “tragedy” or a “war crime.” Through reading, audiences are transformed into a community, and maybe even one in which we ask, “What shall we do?”

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