Friday, November 11, 2016

REVIEW of THE PLEASURES OF READING IN AN AGE OF DISTRACTION by ALAN JACOBS

THE PLEASURES OF READING IN AN AGE OF DISTRACTION
Alan Jacobs
Oxford University Press
2011

SUMMARY (from the publisher)
In recent years, cultural commentators have sounded the alarm about the dire state of reading in America. Americans are not reading enough, they say, or reading the right books, in the right way.

In this book, Alan Jacobs argues that, contrary to the doomsayers, reading is alive and well in America. There are millions of devoted readers supporting hundreds of enormous bookstores and online booksellers. Oprah's Book Club is hugely influential, and a recent NEA survey reveals an actual uptick in the reading of literary fiction. Jacobs's interactions with his students and the readers of his own books, however, suggest that many readers lack confidence; they wonder whether they are reading well, with proper focus and attentiveness, with due discretion and discernment. Many have absorbed the puritanical message that reading is, first and foremost, good for you--the intellectual equivalent of eating your Brussels sprouts. For such people, indeed for all readers, Jacobs offers some simple, powerful, and much needed advice: read at whim, read what gives you delight, and do so without shame, whether it be Stephen King or the King James Version of the Bible. In contrast to the more methodical approach of Mortimer Adler's classic How to Read a Book (1940), Jacobs offers an insightful, accessible, and playfully irreverent guide for aspiring readers. Each chapter focuses on one aspect of approaching literary fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, and the book explores everything from the invention of silent reading, reading responsively, rereading, and reading on electronic devices.

Invitingly written, with equal measures of wit and erudition,
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction will appeal to all readers, whether they be novices looking for direction or old hands seeking to recapture the pleasures of reading they first experienced as children.


REVIEW
If you're anything like me, you like to scan through "must read" book lists to see how many you've read and get ideas for what to read next. This book, though, has made me reconsider that practice. I love to read books that make me think, that make me look at the world from a different angle and reevaluate how I fit into it all. This is one of those books.

Jacobs uses the word "whim" repeatedly, which is not a word always associated with reading. Having recently read Mortimer Adler's and Charles Van Doren's How to Read a Book, whim has certainly not been the first word I think of when I choose my next book. But then again, maybe I am a subscriber to the whim philosophy of reading. Maybe that's why I don't have a single book in my to-read folder on Goodreads.

It's true that today's readers have a harder time concentrating. There are so many things competing for our attention (Twitter), and sometimes it's hard even to finish writing a simple blog post (Twitter), even when the book in front of you is one you've wanted to (Twitter) read for a long time.

We all have to find our coping mechanisms in the age of distraction. Jacobs found that reading on a Kindle helped him to regain some of the concentration he'd lost over the years. The Kindle is electronic, but it's not easy to get on the Internet and check your email. Still, Jacobs found that his fingers had something techy to do--they had to touch the screen on a regular basis to "flip" to the next page.

It's a short book full of great quotes--the kind of quotes that make you look up from the page and stare for a few seconds as the words go round in your head. Jacobs' writing is down-to-earth, humble, witty, and just right. You'll like it.

And he's on Twitter @ayjay.

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