Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction. Alan Jacobs. 2011. Oxford University Press. 176 pages.

I was not exactly the target audience for The Pleasures of Reading In an Age of Distraction. I don't exactly struggle with reading, with finishing books. Do I struggle with individual books now and then? Sure. I think everyone does. There are books that you pick up and realize--either on page ten, page thirty, page eighty-eight--that it's just not working, that you have NO INTEREST in picking that book up and finishing it. At least not anytime in the near-future. But who says you have to finish a book just because you started it? It doesn't matter if you borrowed it from the library, received it for review, or bought it yourself. Your time is too valuable to waste on a not-for-you-right-now book.

So the target audience of this one is former readers or want-to-be readers. Those who "want" to be reading, but who find themselves unable to stay focused on reading, those who instead of losing themselves deeply in a book, giving in to the experience of reading, stay distracted or too-aware of the world around them.

Also he addresses those who feel guilty or stressed. Those who burden themselves down with the notion that they have to read certain books because someone said that they should. Those who are weighed down with the idea that only a few, elite books are worth reading. Those who feel that books have to be read academically, analytically.

The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction is one long ramble. Some might see the word ramble and think I mean something negative by it. I don't. I really don't. Ramble is not a bad word! Jacobs doesn't exactly stay on-task exactly. He jumps from subject to subject to subject to subject. Sometimes he returns to a part earlier in his argument. But for the most part, he's just casually, comfortably rambling about how wonderful, how marvelous, how thrilling it is to read a book for the pure delight, pure joy, pure pleasure of it. He doesn't dismiss entertainment or enjoyment. He doesn't think that this is a 'lesser' form of reading.

If you've been turned off from reading in the past, Jacobs is there to encourage you to try again. To try reading for yourself and only for yourself. To let reading be fun again.

There is also much discussion of the idea of "Whim" reading. Letting yourself be guided by pure Whim. In other words, let your reading take you where it naturally takes you. Don't worry about reading from lists--lists made by others. He may have defined Whim more precisely at one point, but essentially, it is knowing yourself, knowing what you need, knowing what will give you delight.

"not to teach, not to criticize, just for love" (15)
"just because he liked to, wanted to, couldn't help himself" (15)
"let one part of our nature follow its natural desires" (16)
"it's never too late to begin this new life as a free reader" (24)
"it should be normal for us to read what we want to read, to read what we truly enjoy reading" (33)
"it can guide us because it is based in self-knowledge" (41)

I definitely loved parts of this one. There were paragraphs that just were wonderful. I'm not sure the whole book is a love, love, love for me. But I'd definitely recommend this one.

Read The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction
  • If you like reading books about reading
  • If you want validation that reading is something that is supposed to be joyful and delightful
  • If you want permission to stop reading books that you don't like
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Suko said...

I thought this would be about electronic forms of distraction, such as Facebook or texting. I do like to read books about reading. This sounds like something I'd read--on a whim!

Heidenkind said...

But would his target audience ever really pick up a book like this? I don't see it happening.

Beth said...

I have this on my TBR list. It really sounds different than what I was expecting.

Lorri said...

What a cool looking book! Maybe a book lover would buy this book for a friend who has a hard time reading. You never know. Thanks for the review!