The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs
This is a wee, jolly book, my reading friends. It’s 150 pages of Our Kind of Talk.
Yes, it’s a book about the joys of reading.
And the author is a thoroughly amiable fellow. Here’s what he says: “Read at Whim.”
Yes, really! And he’s even an English professor, saying this!
Basically, he’s giving us permission to read what we want to read. We can—yes, we can—ignore those odious lists of Best Books. Unless we happen to want to read some of the books on those lists. Otherwise, it’s OK to read what we love. Because reading books just to check them off a list, that isn’t really reading for the very best reason.
This is so much my belief. It was pure pleasure to read it so beautifully argued.
Here’s one of my favorite sentences of the book. He’s describing his junior year in high school. “At that age I would have been an absolute sucker for any authoritative register of Books One Must Read, and I thank God that I never came across any of them.” (p. 131)
(I myself got hold of such a list in college, and it took a library school class on popular fiction to set me free.)
Jacobs also addresses the difficulties of our wired age. He brings in Nicholas Carr’s ideas from The Shallows to describe how tempting our electronic devices can be, even to those of us who know the delight of being fully absorbed in a book.
Here’s Jacobs: “To be lost in a book is genuinely addictive: someone who has had it a few times wants it again, and wants it enough, perhaps, to beg a friend to hide the damned BlackBerry for a couple of hours, please.” (p. 88)
There are too many delightful sentences here for me to include, but here’s what my favorite sections are about: the importance of allowing ourselves to re-read books when we want to (yeehaw!) and the importance of serendipity in our reading lives. Pretty much what I was railing about a short while ago.
We need those things, and we know we need those things, and we need to make sure we get those things.
A lovely little book. Lovely.