The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
By Alan Jacobs, Oxford, 2011, 162 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-974749-8, $19.95 (hardback).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World Dec 2011 Vol. 82 Issue 2, pp.142-143
What is more important—the ability to read or the motivation to read? Alan Jacobs writes about the latter in his new book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. While reading Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, Jacob’s son walked in the room and being curious about what his father was reading, crept up to his father to see the title and said: “I had to read that book in school last year. Maybe I learned something about how to read a book, but after that I never wanted to read a book again” (p.4). I have heard college students’ remark that when they graduate, they would not read another book. Why do people who have the ability to read lack the desire or motivation to read? Is it because they are forced to read? These are some of the questions Jacobs seeks to answer in The Pleasures of Reading.
Jacobs is hard on Adler and reading lists. He thinks these suggestions make reading“drudgery.” He believes it turns people away from reading. Other writers who thought we should read for pleasure were Walker Percy, C.S. Lewis, and Samuel Johnson. Johnson said you have done a great thing when you have brought a young person to have pleasure from a book.
Does Jacobs have a recipe for helping people to read for pleasure? Yes, he lists two major ways: read out of Whim and Serendipity. Whim means to read books that appeal to you. Read books that come to your attention accidentally and looks interesting to you. Do not read books that everyone supposes to read? Everyone have their own individual tastes.
Another idea that Jacobs pounce on is the instruction on speed reading. The drive to read more and more books in less time. He asserts that different types of books require different speeds. He advises to slow down and not to just pass your eyes over the page, but to actively engage the book. Some books are to be read quickly, others are to be read with a pencil in hand. Reading books are like having a conversation with the author. Father James V. Schall often said that all his best teachers were dead. They taught him through their writings.
The Pleasures of Reading is a pleasure to read. Applying the ideas of Whim and Serendipity to our reading will help us to read for pleasure. Reading for pleasure does not mean we should not read the Great Books, but it should not be our whole diet.