The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

by Alan Jacobs


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199747498
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 05/26/2011
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 616,585
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Alan Jacobs is Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University. His books include The Narnian, a biography of C.S. Lewis, Original Sin: A Cultural History, and a Theology of Reading. His literary and cultural criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, The American Scholar, and the Oxford American.

Table of Contents

Yes, we can
All in your head
Slowly, slowly
True confessions
Abbot Hugh's advice
The triumphant return of Adler and Van Doren
Plastic attention
Getting schooled
Quiet, please
One more, with feeling
Judge, Jury, Executioner
In solitude, for company
How it all started

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Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For anyone who has been jaded by required reading lists, assigned reading, and a Mortimer-Adleresque approach to books, Jacobs' voice melts the ice of pedantry. Jacobs urges his reader to think carefully about what she spends her time thinking about and reading, taking special note of the challenges of reading in a digital age. I found this book to be a pleasurable read from beginning to end, and it has helped to rejuvenate my long lost love of getting lost in a good book. I definitely recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I owe a lot to the author because this book helped me rediscover the beauty of books. My career had taken up nearly all of my life. The rest was filled by TV, the internet, or other distractions. The book ignited my firey pashion for reading that had diminished long ago.
Miss_OHara More than 1 year ago
For anyone who's ever struggled with what they should read versus what they want to read, this is the book for you. Jacobs covers a variety of topics related to which books to read and why (or rather, why you should read whatever you want), reading in an age filled with technology, and reading as a sort of community within its solitude. Excellently written. Highly recommend!
CosmicBullet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have begun to suspect that my brain may be ruined. Short-circuited. Re-programmed. Made over into a Borg-like artifact of the 21st century ¿ now that I have subjected myself for so many years to the buzzing, pinging Siren call of the cell phone, the Tweet, the Facebook wall, the RSS feed with the short bursts of attention that such online reading requires. And, enabling my discovered addiction to video gaming, there are both solo and online multiuser role-playing opportunities, each promising visual and auditory immersion and some rather compelling story lines. Is it still possible to become so transported by a book that we forget who and where we are? More to the point, where have the unbroken stretches of two and three hours gone? I find it difficult, anymore, to stay focused on one thing for any length of time. I remember days when nothing was more alluring than a good book in a quiet house. Alan Jacobs¿ book, "The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction," is a timely call to arms and a healthy tonic for those readers who struggle with this daily deluge of modern media. His book is cleverly and thoughtfully written: it takes the form of one long essay, penned in notes of commiseration, humor and encouragement, but broken by a series of bold-faced headings into sub-topics (`Yes, we can!,¿ `Whim,¿ `Slowly, slowly¿. . .), any of which could easily be read in a sitting of ten to twenty minutes. Jacobs encourages readers to champion the authority of self in their reading ¿ a force which he calls Whim (with a capital `W¿), in which one¿s inner passion determines what course he or she follows in choosing reading material, in which great books are marvelous opportunities for growth, not obligatory hurdles on some pedantic to do list. Not surprisingly, he encourages us to throw off the binding chains of those canonical book lists of Adler, van Doren and Fadiman, and more especially those of the newer '1000 Books to Read Before You Die' ilk. At least, he says, do not religiously follow these paths simply because somebody 'more important' than you said it would be good for you. When significant works are read primarily for accomplishment, or when 'strip-mined' for content (as much online media is designed to be), books lose their primary capacity to involve and radically change you, he says. Slow down. This is actually harder to do than it sounds. I believe it is true that our brains are being re-wired by the highly connected, electronic society we live in. But the process is not inherently evil ¿ witness the `Arab Spring¿ and `Occupy¿ phenomena which have sprung largely out of the ability to instantly communicate with one another. And it is not irrevocable: ¿The amazing thing about our brains is not that they are hard-wired to accomplish some particular task, but that they are not.¿ This is good news, indeed. I agree with Jacobs: books are not in danger of becoming extinct. However, we have choices to make: how to read and why to read. And in making them, we should heed the authority of our personal journey.
mattparfitt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this right after reading Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows." They address similar concerns, and I guess Carr's book is a bit more substantial and will probably get more attention. But I think Jacobs, in his modest way, has written a wiser book. His approach is to encourage us to read for the pleasure of it. And he believes that even in this "age of distraction" there are, and will always be, readers who do just that. The book's range of reference is impressive, and the writing is witty and companionable.
wortklauberlein on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some people, author Alan Jacobs writes, "conceive of reading simply as a means of uploading information to their brains." In this slender volume, he distinguishes among types of reading and urges people to read not according to the dictates of a bucket list of books or to say you've read all the Great Books, but more randomly, because a book calls to you in some way.Jacobs dwells less on the problem of distractions and so-called multitasking -- what he says Cory Doctorow calls "Your computerized ecosystem of interruption technologies" -- than he does on why to read, and what. He urges "don't turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens."I hope readers give this volume a chance beyond the first chapter or two. While Jacobs starts out as ponderous as, oh, say, Harold Bloom, he loosens up nicely around page 40 when discussing what the authors we love to read read themselves. Jane Austen, for example, read Hume, but, Jacobs writes, "it would be useless to pretend that any modern reader can merrily skip through Hume as through a summer meadow."Nor can one skip lightly through this book. It contains much to ponder and to argue with or smile at, and deserves rereading -- another topic Jacobs discusses. Only recently did I learn that some people feel guilty for rereading a favorite book instead of getting on with the next one, and the next and the next.Slow down, people. This race is not to the swift.[One quibble in case there is another printing: Several names are wrong, including "Mark" Dirda in a footnote (correctly Michael in the main text); Elizabeth Bennett, who has too many Ts; and Stephanie Meyer, who uses no Es.]
buildingabookshelf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I saw the title, I thought 'finally a book written for me!" I feel as if I am the last remaining person on earth who can sit and read a book without checking facebook, twitter, or whatever other website is beeping at the moment. Although I really enjoyed the book, I was disappointed to find that even the author admits to being sidetracked by the distraction that is the internet. I learned alot about myself through this book. If nothing else, I learned that some of the things that I do when reading are not unique to me. Nice to know that I'm not a freak! The book made me laugh out loud several times, which is quite a feat for a nonfiction book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for my Nook after the article in the Chronicle and unfortunately it won't open. Customer service was able to replicate the issue so they refunded my money. I really wanted to read it but due an issue with the publisher, the book won't open. This is just really unfortunate and ironic considering the book is about e-reading. I'd like to be able to read it, but I can't so I'm giving it two stars.