The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

the pleasures of reading in an age of distraction“Those who have always disliked reading, or who have been left indifferent by it, may find little of interest here. But those who have caught a glimpse of what reading can give – pleasure, wisdom, joy – even if that glimpse came long ago, are the audience for whom this book was written.”

This is a book about ignoring ‘must-read’ lists, about reading at whim, reading slowly, and reading responsively. It’s basically both a love letter to reading and a reading guide (that doesn’t lecture).

In some ways he’s preaching to the choir with me, as I’m a huge advocate of reading what you want, not what you ‘should’, but there was still a lot I took from it. One thing that particularly struck me was about reading slowly. I have a bad habit sometimes of not-quite-skim-reading-but-almost when there are lots of books I want to read at the same time. And what’s the point? Some books, the less plot-driven books, should, and need, to be read more slowly. (This month I happened to re-read something I loved the first time I read it. It had been long enough between readings that I had forgotten much of it so I should have enjoyed it. But I didn’t. I realise now that I was trying to read it quickly for a book club, when it’s actually the sort of book that needs to slowly wash over you.)

I’m also in the middle of Artful by Ali Smith and what’s stuck with me so far in that is the idea that we only read books once and make our judgements on whether we like it on that one reading, but will listen to music more than once and find our opinions can change, that we can find something else on a new listen. Obviously, re-reading a book takes up more time than a three-minute song, but I think it links with the idea of reading more slowly and carefully. And, as Jacobs discusses, it links in particular to poetry. I wrote a little about this here, and after an initial flurry of exploration my poetry reading has dropped off again. I think it is this habit of mine to read quickly, and once, which is stopping me. It’ll take a while to change, as all habits do, but I hope (plan!) to practice reading more slowly, and to particularly apply this to poetry, which inevitably takes more patience.

If you love reading, or did once and want to know how to again, or want to read but lack the confidence because you don’t read the ‘right’ things, then definitely pick up this short, easy-to-read book. It might not be reading more slowly, it might be finding new ways to be responsive or feeling a confidence to tackle ‘difficult’ books or try e-readers, but I guarantee you’ll find something here.

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4 Responses to The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

  1. Pingback: April Reads | mischief and miscellany

  2. Pingback: The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller | mischief and miscellany

  3. Pingback: 10 best books of 2014 | mischief and miscellany

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