- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 26, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199747490
- ISBN-13: 978-0199747498
- Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.8 x 5.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 39 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction 1st Edition
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"Delightful...appealing and convincing." --The Wall Street Journal
"As so many recent studies have suggested, the activity of reading itself is seriously threatened in this digital age. But Alan Jacobs -- bless him -- has an approach that will warm the hearts of serious readers and lead many prospective readers into the deeply satisfying swells of good prose. Reading should be a pleasure, and Jacobs shows us how to make sure we take delight in this work, which is not work at all. This is a witty and reader-friendly book, and it's one I would happily give to any potential reader, young or old." -- Jay Parini, author of The Passages of H.M. and The Last Station
"A vigorous and friendly exhortation to get back into the kind of reading that made you a reader in the first place." - Library Journal
"Jacobs' little, witty ode to pleasure found between hardcovers is a useful reminder of the joy of text." --Dan Kois, NPR
"Jacobs gives us the best entry to date in the flurry of recent attempts to augur and meditate upon the fate of reading in our time." --John Wilson, Christianity Today
"It seems a rare accomplishment that a book on the pleasures of reading could actually pull off being pleasurable itself. But Alan Jacobs' newest book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, does just that. It is a marvelous manifesto of sanity in an age of jeremiads about the modern predicament of attention loss on one hand, and those proud champions of distraction singing the hallelujah chorus of a world devoid of long-form books on the other." --Trevor Logan, First Things
"A passionate call to indulge one's readerly passions in the pursuit of centeredness and growth, this book just might change the way you think about reading." --Brendan Driscoll, Booklist
"Alan Jacobs' bright, broad paean to reading is a sort of secular prayer book. It instructs, exhorts, laments, reveres; it has great faith andbest of allshows the Way. Or a way at leastfor author Jacobs, a college English professor, warns well that the road to reading Nirvana is a highly personal one." --Joseph Mackin, New York Journal of Books
"wonderful" --Micah Mattix, The Weekly Standard
"Reading Jacobs is a supreme pleasure...Jacobs has reshaped not only how I think about reading but how and what I actually read." --Lauren Winner, Books & Culture
"Jacobs makes a persuasive case that reading for pleasure should remain a live option in any discipline...The book as a whole makes many compelling points and refreshingly celebrates the God-given gift of reading in an age where texts are ubiquitous but often neglected."--Themelios
"Using Auden's terms to describe judging books, I conclude that 'I can see this is good and I like it.' The Pleasures of Reading in a Time of Distraction represents a realistic approach to recovering deep reading for the sole purpose of pleasure."--Journal of Education and Christian Belief
About the Author
Alan Jacobs is Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University. His books include The Narnian, a biography of C.S. Lewis, Original Sin: A Cultural History, and a Theology of Reading. His literary and cultural criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, The American Scholar, and the Oxford American.
Top customer reviews
Apparently, I am not alone. According to Alan Jacobs in his delightful book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction these types of approaches to "responsible" reading are widespread and part of the way we have been educated to read. But Jacobs will have none of it! He brings a breath of fresh air to reading that lifts any burden we might feel and, instead, recommends we read what we find pleasurable - without shame!
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is a meditative reflection on reading that avoids telling the reader what they should read. No rules here other than some guidelines about gaining the most from reading. Instead, we are to read at Whim. He writes: '... my commitment to one dominant, overarching definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim' (italics in original). 'Read what gives you delight - at least most of the time - and do so without shame.'
Jacobs is not suggesting that we do not sometimes read the so-called "great books" that require us to commit to a demanding read. But he likens those to what we might eat at an elegant restaurant - we eat sometimes but not every day. Reading at Whim cannot be the only reason we read. But it is a type of reading we need to recover.
Jacobs does distinguish between lower-case whim and upper-case Whim. The lower-case version '...is thoughtless, directionless preference that almost leads to boredom or frustration or both. But Whim is something very different: it can guide us because it is based in self-knowledge.'
Jacobs explores the difference between the two using examples from literature - demonstrating a vast richness of ancient and contemporary sources.
The idea that we can read at Whim is liberating! This book has already changed the way I read. He embraces new technologies (he has a fascinating discussion of the benefits of reading with a Kindle compared to a traditional book) and iconoclastically sweeps away a whole lot tired assumptions that make reading so burdensome for many people.
So... if you want to consider a new approach to reading that has the potential to enliven it again for you, then check out this excellent, Whimsical little book.
Jacobs distinguishes two kinds of reading: deep attention and hyper attention. The former is where we maintain a sustained focus on a book and is most suited to situations where we are looking to intensify our understanding or to lose ourselves in enjoyment. Hyper attention is characterised by skimming and looking at the structure of a book, and is more suited to reading where the primary goal is to glean information. The two are not mutually exclusive: often we use hyper reading in order to select things for deep attention, and Jacobs argues that our education system needs to teach both modes in order to improve our skills in deciding which one to apply to any given text.
Being able to decide what to read and how you will read it gives us a greater measure of control over our lives. Jacobs warns against being seduced by lists of worthy books to read or an established canon of literature. There is an extraordinary diversity of books out there, so we need to become self-confident navigators rather than steerage class passengers being fed pap by the `experts'. Jacobs's principle is to `read at Whim' (with a capital W), which is not just random reading, but making informed choices along the way.
The book provides some tips on how to improve our deep attention when reading, and how to balance this with hyper attention in order to choose our reading more thoughtfully. Jacobs is rightly scornful of the concept of `multi-tasking', which is generally an excuse for not doing anything properly.
Jacobs is a proponent of highlighting, underlining and annotating books, though he appreciates that this might cause problems if you borrow your books from a public library (still, he doesn't hold library books to be sacrosanct). E-readers allow extensive annotations, highlighting and bookmarking, and even sharing of your highlights with others, but Jacobs notes that the system is not yet a match for annotations on paper.
His own experience with an e-reader is that it has increased the amount of deep attention reading he has been doing. He puts this down to the fact that accessing distractions on his e-reader is clumsy and takes too much time. I have found the same thing since buying an e-reader, becoming more regularly absorbed in books for much longer periods, though I cannot put my finger on the reasons for this. It is counter-intuitive to what we expect from modern technology, but a pleasing result.
Many people re-read books, sometimes on a regular basis or sometimes after an interval of many years. This can be a useful learning experience, to see how our reactions change over time and to see how our judgement of a book can vary depending on our circumstances and accumulated experiences. As I get older I have appreciated books that left me cold in my youth, and others that stirred my imagination now seem shallow and uninspiring. Others, of course, retain their magic and can open up ever new perspectives each time they are read.
In the closing section of his book, Jacobs describes the act of reading to a child as an act of love, and a pleasurable experience with books when young is likely to build a love of reading in the longer term. But reading is not an innate skill like language and speech. The part of the brain used for reading is quite different to that used for other language functions. It is certainly a rewarding skill to learn, and Jacobs has written a short but appealing book that will hopefully reignite people's interest in reading more wisely and more often.