I’m intrigued by the story of the judge who spared a young man from jail on terrorism offences, provided he committed himself to reading a prescribed list of works by Jane Austen, Dickens and the like. What’s not clear is whether he intended the mere effort of reading – and submitting to the judge’s test of said reading after Christmas – to be a sufficient distraction from plotting neo-Nazi unpleasantness; or whether those books in particular might reset his befuddled brain, because of some inherent moral qualities. Pride and Prejudice, most would agree, is a good book in an aesthetic, literary sense, which is what fixes its place in the canon; but does that make it good in the same way we’d describe a good person, someone who is essentially righteous? And even if it were, might something more overtly didactic (To Kill A Mockingbird, say) do a better job in changing hearts and minds?
Of course, if Judge Timothy Spencer QC had just told the accused to go away and read a few books, he might have curled up with a copy of Mein Kampf. Or even The Picture of Dorian Gray, wherein he would have found this snippet of subversion:
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.