The Importance of Reading in Earnest

From The Washington Post:

Wilde When he was 16, Thomas Wright happened upon a collection of Oscar Wilde's writing in a Cambridge, England, bookshop. He bought the book and later the same day began to read Wilde's “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” that languidly diabolical novel about the seductive young man who sells his soul for eternal youth. Wright was simply overwhelmed. “Wilde's elegant prose and his agile intellect dazzled me; I was thrilled, too, by his effervescent, Mozartian wit. . . . I was so enchanted by the novel that I read it fifteen, or perhaps even twenty times, sometimes finishing it and beginning it again on the same day.” Having fallen under Wilde's spell, like so many others before him, Wright conceived of his “great literary mission. In a moment of quixotic madness, I resolved to read all the books my hero had read.”

Twenty years later, the result is this exploration of “how reading defined the life of Oscar Wilde.” For most people today, Wilde (1854-1900) is remembered chiefly as a wit or a martyr. Entire books have been assembled of his seemingly frivolous yet disorientingly astute quips and paradoxes: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.” Certainly Wilde's “The Importance of Being Earnest” rivals or even outshines William Congreve's “The Way of the World” for sparkling, ever-fresh comedy. Nearly every exchange, virtually every sentence, approaches the condition of perverse aphorism: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. . . . No woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating. . . . The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”

More here.