I picked up this little book (162 pages) with much to digest from the library called The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs.
While it’s no surprise that we all enjoy reading (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog), this book did have some points that I hadn’t thought of before or needed a reminder of since I’ve felt a little “stale” in my reading this year. Actually I have been feeling a bit like this quote by Nicholas Carr mentioned by Jacobs:
“…I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going-so far as I can tell-but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
Work, children, school, social media, emails, TV, cell phones,…the list can go on and on as to what is distracting the avid reader. Instead of going through why this is happening, (we all have distractions) Jacobs shares some great ideas of how to get back on track. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but open to suggestions:
- Slow Down – Savor the language, story and characters. Read less books, not more. I’m actually reading less this year, not on purpose, though.
- Avoid Lists – This one is hard for me. I like a good list. I’m a list maker. I’m making one right now for this blog post. But I see his point. The “Best Of” lists can be helpful to find a new read but adhering to “1001 Classics to Read Before You Die” can be stressful. He actually suggests that if someone has asked you if you’ve read a classic, say yes, read Wikipedia, and lie. Too funny!
- Read at Whim – This kind of goes along with the last point. No “shoulds”, know your reader self/type, and read whatever suits you at the time. I’m going to really try this one…as soon as I get through this library stack I have.
- Re-Read – So you love Harry Potter and/or Jane Austen books? Go ahead and reread them. They make you happy and you enjoy them. Once you’ve run out of your favorite author’s books? Jacobs suggests finding out what your favorite author enjoys reading or what inspired their books. I thought this was a great idea!
- Don’t Read To Gain Knowledge – I get what he is saying here, but I love information and sometimes want to learn something new. But his point is that with highlighter, pencil and flags in hand, the pleasure can be lost. I’ve been there a few times when reading to review a book. It felt more like work, so I get it.
- Engage in Group Talks – Yessss to book groups, online chats, blogs, etc! Talking about books definitely keeps the enjoyment alive.
- Read on an ereader – This one is hard for me. I don’t read on an ereader so not sure how to measure this one. Jacobs swears that since he bought a Kindle, he reads more and is distracted less. He can’t flip ahead as easily to spoil the story, having a “device” makes him look at his phone less, and believes it creates linearity, forward momentum and more focus. Again, I don’t know if this is true, but maybe will try to add a few ebooks on mine and compare.
Jacobs goes into a lot of other areas: disputing Adler and Van Doren’s “How to Read a Book” and “The Joy of Reading”, his thoughts on sequels and imitators, references Hume, Kipling, Austen, Rowling and numerous other authors and sadly talks about Borders (before their demise). Oh, and there are footnotes galore, if you like that sort of thing. His mention of “critical reflection” was interesting (sometimes I’m too critical) and made me laugh with the mention of how Auden judged books:
“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 perseverance I shall come to like it;
I can see this is trash but I like it;
I can see this is trash and I don’t like it.”
Think maybe Goodreads can adopt this type of rating system?
Overall, it’s a great reminder that it’s not how well you read or what you read but focuses on the pleasure and enjoyment of reading. You know that feeling when you get lost in a book and want to stay up until the wee hours devouring it? I’m still looking for that one this year and hopefully with a few of these tips, I’ll find it.