William Deresiewicz is a literary critic who is a contributing editor for both The New Republic and The American Scholar. His work has been published in The New York Times, Slate, Bookforum, The Chronicle of Higher Education,The New Yorker online, and The London Review of Books.
As an English teacher, I completely agree with Deresiewicz's idea that "great books say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought." When younger, I did not realize the impact a "good book" could have on me--as an academic, a student, and a human being. As I grew older, I came to realize that a good book could change one's life.
For example, prior to reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I refused to give scientific advancement a critical, questioning thought. For me, scientific advancement was important. It allowed our global society to cure illnesses, manipulate genes, and stay alive (with our loved ones longer)--among numerous other things. After reading the novel, my habits of thought were most certainly disrupted. I began to think about how we, as a global society, may be angering nature. We, in our attempts to control nature, were actually harming both it and ourselves. We were attempting to become gods.
While I am very aware of the fictional nature of the text, it does not change the fact that my previous thoughts failed to acknowledge the negative aspects of scientific advancement. While I do agree with certain advancements, others (for me) seem negligent. Deresiewicz is completely correct.
Allow me to correct an error on my part: When stating that I refused to give scientific advancement a second thought (though the wording has now been edited to "refused to give scientific advancement a critical, questioning thought"), I meant to state that I never questioned if scientific advancement was appropriate or correct. Once I read Frankenstein, I came to understand the negative side of scientific advancement.
The quote above came from Deresiewicz's essay "Solitude and Leadership" (published in The American Scholar). In this essay, he spoke of the importance of reading. He states that many books are old, and this makes them "valuable." They are valuable because they possess "wisdom" of their "own day" which "says something different from what [we] hear all of the time." These ideas and concepts, since they differ greatly from conventional thought, allow our habits of thought to be disrupted.