The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (review)

One dominant, overarching, nearly definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim.

Somewhere around Christmastime I fell into a massive reading rut. What I was reading was no fun, and there was nothing better out there, and there never would be. Everything was in ruins. Then I read this book. And for the past couple months, I’ve been on one of those glorious hot streaks where just about everything I’ve read has been fun, and the stuff that wasn’t I dropped without second thought. Coincidence? I have to give some credit to leaving behind the cold, dark, depressing winter, and stepping into the golden light of springtime… but Alan JacobsThe Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction definitely deserves some credit, too.

I like the tone of this one. It’s like your at a smart friend’s house, and he’s reclining in a chair and talking at length. Some favorite parts…

In an awesome footnote, relating to the “gateway drug” theory of lowbrow reading eventually leading to “better” books, an excerpt from Alex Rose:

The only conceivable value of trashy books is the dubious but not unthinkable possibility that they might go some of the way towards engendering in young people a love of reading as an end in-itself, which in turn might whet the appetite for better books. For many, that’s the only way in. They’ll read Sweet Valley High or Twilight at thirteen, lose their taste for it by fourteen and demand something richer and more challenging at sixteen. Or so the thinking goes.

If the argument applies to one form of entertainment, though, it should apply to all. Why is it that when kids become enraptured by some idiotic program, no one says, “well, at least they’re watching TV?”

In hindsight, this is obvious, but it’s a really good, liberating reminder:

If I set a book aside today I am not thereby forbidding myself to return to it later—nor am I promising to do so. To everything there is a season, and, by corollary, everything is sometimes *out* of season.

Timing is everything. And along the same lines of releasing the pressure on yourself, we’re reminded that “Many books become more boring the faster you read them” and that “All books want our attention, but not all of them want the same kind of attention.”

I also liked this excerpt from Auden about thinking about how we evaluate the stuff we read:

“For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good, and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe with perserverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.”

If you find yourself in a reading rut, maybe this one will help you get out, too. Recommended.