Book Briefs: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction


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

Few things may sound more tedious than reading a book about reading. Thankfully, Jacobs turns the potential tedium into pure pleasure as he writes about the pleasures of reading. This was easily one of my favorite books from the last year.

Jacobs is an English professor at Wheaton College. As such, he knows how to teach students to read, and beyond that, how to inspire students to love reading. For the hesitant reader, this book is full of gentle, kind encouragement. Go ahead. Pick up a book. Pick up an article. Pick up a Kindle. Read. You may find you like it.

Jacobs writes with insight on wide variety of topics related to reading. He carefully considers how technology can help and hinder our reading. He speaks of the necessity of reading slowly, "I believe that most people read quickly because they want not to read but to have read." He writes about the satisfaction of "deep attention" and the "raptness" that long-form reading requires. Most of all he encourages us to "read at whim!" and herein lies the great value of this book.

To turn reading into "the intellectual equivalent of eating your organic greens" is to miss the point of reading altogether. "How depressing." Read at whim, he says. Read for pleasure. Read for the joy of it. Don't read to have read, read to read. "So the books are waiting," he writes, "Of this you may be confident: they'll be ready when the whim strikes you."