Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times (Hardcover)

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Why do we read? There are myriad answers to that simple question: to be entertained, to escape the daily grind, to lose oneself in a story, to gain knowledge, and many more. For Iranian-American writer Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, the reason for reading is a bit more nuanced. In her new book, Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times, Nafisi writes, “[L]iterature is an act of resistance against dehumanization. War and trauma numb our senses and freeze our feelings. Literature restores us, awakens our feelings and returns to us our sense of individuality and integrity. Both writing and reading become ways of protest, an existential rebellion against enforced violence.”

Read Dangerously is structured as letters to Nafisi’s father, former mayor of Tehran and political prisoner. In these letters she relays her concerns about the world and relates these concerns with specific pieces of literature from Salman Rushdie, Plato, Ray Bradbury, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, David Grossman, Eliot Ackerman, Elias Khoury, Margaret Atwood, Ta Nehisi Coates, and James Baldwin. Nafisi deftly examines these pieces and demonstrates how these authors have written dangerously so that we may read dangerously. She recounts how important storytelling was for her father and how she wishes they could still discuss the importance of literature that he instilled in her as a child. When she began writing these letters in the fall of 2016, her father had been dead for twelve years. 

In the end, Nafisi implores the reader to explore literature that challenges the status quo, as she writes, “Reading fosters a mindset that questions and doubts, that is not content with the establishment or the established." 

Read this book and then continue to read dangerously.

— Bobby


The New York Times bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran returns with a guide to the power of literature in turbulent times, arming readers with a resistance reading list, ranging from James Baldwin to Zora Neale Hurston to Margaret Atwood.

"[A] stunning look at the power of reading. ... Provokes and inspires at every turn." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Remarkable. ... Audacious." —The Progressive

"Stunningly beautiful and perceptive." —Los Angeles Review of Books

What is the role of literature in an era when one political party wages continual war on writers and the press? What is the connection between political strife in our daily lives, and the way we meet our enemies on the page in fiction? How can literature, through its free exchange, affect politics?

In this galvanizing guide to literature as resistance, Nafisi seeks to answer these questions. Drawing on her experiences as a woman and voracious reader living in the Islamic Republic of Iran, her life as an immigrant in the United States, and her role as literature professor in both countries, she crafts an argument for why, in a genuine democracy, we must engage with the enemy, and how literature can be a vehicle for doing so.

Structured as a series of letters to her father, who taught her as a child about how literature can rescue us in times of trauma, Nafisi explores the most probing questions of our time through the works of Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, and more. 

About the Author

AZAR NAFISI is the author of the multi-award-winning New York Times bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, as well as Things I’ve Been Silent About, The Republic of Imagination, and That Other World. Formerly a Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Policy Institute, she has taught at Oxford and several universities in Tehran. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Praise For…

"Nafisi moves effortlessly across the literary landscape. ... Nafisi has a talent for combining the academic and the everyday, the theoretical and the personal, and thanks to her deliberate and confident voice, the lessons will stick with us, too." — New York Times Book Review

"One of the remarkable things about Read Dangerously is the extent to which Nafisi’s father emerges as a vibrant and fully developed character, years after his death. She effortlessly resurrects his intellectual presence. ... Read Dangerously lives up to its audacious title, demonstrating the subversive and transformative power of literature. It should start many a book-based conversation." — The Progressive

"Thoughtful and insightful. ... Heartfelt. ... Because change can be a daunting process, we avoid 'reading dangerously.' But that is precisely what [Nafisi] calls on us to do." — Christian Science Monitor

"Makes the compelling case that books can help confront societal challenges. ... Reminds us of the power of reading." — Time

"[A] stunning look at the power of reading. ... Nafisi's prose is razor-sharp, and her analysis lands on a hopeful note. ... This excellent collection provokes and inspires at every turn." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Impassioned. ... Eloquent essays on literature’s power to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." — USA Today

"Frequently and deftly shift[s] lanes between autobiography and literary analysis. ... Asks incisive questions about the intolerance within individuals. ... Natural, intimate. ... Writing to her departed father reinforces the mood of Nafisi's book, which turns to the power and example of the brave past and to a tradition of great books as solace and guide. With sensitivity and intelligence, it offers a new canon for the tyrannies of the present and the dystopian possibilities of the future." — Washington Post

"A stunningly beautiful and perceptive illustration of how we rethink our lives by looking for the mysteries behind the fault lines that kept us imprisoned. ... Ultimately, her story gives all of us hope." — Los Angeles Review of Books

"A contemporary treatise on oppression wherever it exists, Read Dangerously raises Nafisi to new heights. ... Illuminate[s] the lessons of literature at a time when the state of the world seems bleak. ... A political writer's brilliant attempt to understand historical and political events, as well as human nature." — New York Journal of Books

"To say it's timely would be an understatement." — Ms. magazine

"Reading remains a subversive activity. Great books, as Nafisi rightly claims, 'reflect and transcend the prejudices of the author as well as their time and place.' Count this one among them." — Toronto Star

"Nafisi’s book celebrates the power of books to humanize their readers, to embrace the values of curiosity, empathy, and decency. She reminds us that that power is often strongest in repressive societies in which reading is insurgency." — American Scholar

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062947369
ISBN-10: 0062947362
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022
Pages: 240
Language: English