There are traditional religious and moral arguments for the importance of growing up, for “putting away childish things,” as St. Paul phrases it. Interestingly, in the nineteenth century particularly, this religious argument was co-opted by secularism, so that education out of religion and into atheism or secular enlightenment was also seen as putting away childish things (in this case, the childish thing being religion itself – see notably Freud’s “The Future of an Illusion.”) But James Wood wants to make a case for the importance of remaining childlike, of not losing touch with the details and felt realities of childhood; and will argue that childhood is the true secularism of the human spirit.
James Wood has been a staff writer and book critic at The New Yorker since 2007 and is Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University. He was the chief literary critic at The Guardian, in London, from 1992 to 1995, and a senior editor at The New Republic from 1995 to 2007. His critical essays have been collected in three volumes, The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief (1999); The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel (2004), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays (2012). He is also the author of a novel, The Book Against God (2003), and a study of technique in the novel, How Fiction Works (2008), translated into German as Die Kunst des Erzählens (2011).