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

“Alone in my room, congested and exhausted, I forgot my obsession with self-advancement. I wanted to lose myself. I wanted to read. Instead of filling in the blanks, I wanted to be a blank and be filled in.”

– from Walter Kirn in Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever as quoted by Alan Jacobs


As the title might imply, Alan Jacobs’ slim book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is going to appeal mostly to those individuals who already love reading. Those who are not inclined to read for pleasure will probably gloss over this title.

He puts much of the book’s emphasis on a concept he calls “Whim”. Reading at Whim isn’t simply reading randomly and chaotically (that would be whim with a lower case ‘w’). True, according to Jacobs, Whim involves a little randomness and lack of plan; however, its a randomness based on knowing yourself as a reader. Jacobs tends to lightly make fun of all of those lists of books that everyone should read. Whim tends to not just include reading those works that are considered “literary” but any work that can bring true pleasure to the reader. At the same time, Jacobs encourages readers, at Whim, to begin exploring works that might go deeper than sheer entertainment. Reading for pleasure seems to be somewhere in between reading out of necessity (for education or for information) and reading for entertainment – although many times all of them can occur at the same time. I like the way he tied this lack of plan to those of us who were lucky enough to have parents and teachers who read to us:

Plan once appealed to me, but I have grown to be a natural worshiper of Serendepity and Whim; I can try to serve other gods, but my heart is never in it. I truly think I would rather read an indifferent book on a lark than a find one according to schedule and plan. And why not? After all, once upon a time we chose none of our reading: it all came to us unbidden, unanticipated, unknown, and from the hand of someone who loved us.

If you are an avid reader, this book will enjoyably reinforce what you already know.





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