Brief Commentary: The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction

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

A solid, highly readable summation of many of the ideas circulating about how technology changes our patterns of attention, what the good of reading is, etc. from the late ’00s/early ’10s. But Jacobs isn’t writing a jeremiad here; he’s rather frank and honest about his own foibles, and the flaws of his profession (literature professor) in hurting reading as well. This slim little book is itself a pleasure to read, and aims to be a sort of reply to all the “how to read” books of the 20th century, with an eye towards the ways in which the aforementioned discussions of technology and the good of reading change how we read, how we can read, how we should read, and thus how to read.

Jacobs’s counsel is simple: we should read at whim, using the power of (capital-W) Whim as a discipline for reading. That is: read for pleasure and enjoyment, with a mind towards how what we’re reading now connects to other things written before and to be written, that we’ve read before and that we might want to read. Stay away from reading as an obligation: after all, Jacobs would have us think, reading is a pleasure like good food, or good wine, or love. It is one of the truly great pleasures–and we should, under the tutelage of Whim, learn to treat it and think of it as such.

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