Monday, July 4, 2011

Bag O' Books: 'The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction' by Alan Jacobs

Three thoughts about this book:

• Since my May 1 surgery, I had—until this week—been able to read exactly one book front-to-back: Tina Fey's "Bossypants." It was clever and entertaining, but it took all of an afternoon to read. Everything else I've tried to read the last two months has either been a bit of a slog, or else I've simply been unable to maintain focus. But reading is important to me; it frightened me to think I might be losing my capacity somehow. So when I saw this slim volume at the Joseph Fox Bookshop in Philadelphia, I snapped it up immediately. Maybe, just maybe, I could find my way back.

• A wise choice, because one of Jacobs' chief messages in this book is: "Relax." He eschews reading lists and eat-your-veggies approaches to reading in favor of urging readers to follow their Whim. In Jacobs' hands, this is not a call to dispense with Great Books and devote oneself entirely to Stephen King. He makes it quite clear that one's Whim—he's the one doing the capitalizing—can lead one both to high art and splendid trash, and that one can derive different sorts of pleasures from both. (He's also quite keen on the virtues of rereading certain books.)

• But how does one continue to be a book reader when Twitter, Facebook, and life itself are lurking all around? Jacobs doesn't really offer an answer to this question: Instead, he suggests that it is possible, with some persistent effort, to create a "cone of silence" around oneself—if one chooses to do so. And perhaps he's right: I managed to read this 150-page book in three days. On a long holiday weekend, to be sure, but it was possible. Jacobs' book about the pleasures of reading turns out to be a pleasurable read in its own right.

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