The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

( 6 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Montaigne once wrote: "there are more books on books than on any other subject: all we do is gloss each other." The great French essayist could have been thinking of Wheaton College English professor Jacobs's tired and trite defense of reading. Jacobs affirms that reading books is one of the great human delights, yet argues that numerous books on reading—such as Mortimer Adler's "dutiful How to Read a Book"—have driven more people away from books than have invited them into the joys of reading. Taking a page from the great literary critic Randall Jarrell, Jacobs's definitive principle is to "read at whim." Rather than sticking to a reading list of the "classics" or books we feel compelled to read in order to feel edified, we will enjoy reading even more, he says, if we select those books that interest us and immerse ourselves in their worlds. Jacobs's ideas are hardly fresh; eminent book critic Michael Dirda has more eloquently proposed in numerous books that we should read at whim for the pleasure it brings us. (June)
From the Publisher
"Delightful...appealing and convincing." —The Wall Street Journal

"As so many recent studies have suggested, the activity of reading itself is seriously threatened in this digital age. But Alan Jacobs — bless him — has an approach that will warm the hearts of serious readers and lead many prospective readers into the deeply satisfying swells of good prose. Reading should be a pleasure, and Jacobs shows us how to make sure we take delight in this work, which is not work at all. This is a witty and reader-friendly book, and it's one I would happily give to any potential reader, young or old." — Jay Parini, author of The Passages of H.M. and The Last Station

"A vigorous and friendly exhortation to get back into the kind of reading that made you a reader in the first place." - Library Journal

"Jacobs' little, witty ode to pleasure found between hardcovers is a useful reminder of the joy of text." —Dan Kois, NPR

"Jacobs gives us the best entry to date in the flurry of recent attempts to augur and meditate upon the fate of reading in our time." —John Wilson, Christianity Today

"It seems a rare accomplishment that a book on the pleasures of reading could actually pull off being pleasurable itself. But Alan Jacobs' newest book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, does just that. It is a marvelous manifesto of sanity in an age of jeremiads about the modern predicament of attention loss on one hand, and those proud champions of distraction singing the hallelujah chorus of a world devoid of long-form books on the other." —Trevor Logan, First Things

"A passionate call to indulge one's readerly passions in the pursuit of centeredness and growth, this book just might change the way you think about reading." —Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

"Alan Jacobs' bright, broad paean to reading is a sort of secular prayer book. It instructs, exhorts, laments, reveres; it has great faith andbest of allshows the Way. Or a way at leastfor author Jacobs, a college English professor, warns well that the road to reading Nirvana is a highly personal one." —Joseph Mackin, New York Journal of Books

"wonderful" —Micah Mattix, The Weekly Standard

"Reading Jacobs is a supreme pleasure...Jacobs has reshaped not only how I think about reading but how and what I actually read." —Lauren Winner, Books & Culture

"Jacobs makes a persuasive case that reading for pleasure should remain a live option in any discipline...The book as a whole makes many compelling points and refreshingly celebrates the God-given gift of reading in an age where texts are ubiquitous but often neglected."—Themelios

"Using Auden's terms to describe judging books, I conclude that 'I can see this is good and I like it.' The Pleasures of Reading in a Time of Distraction represents a realistic approach to recovering deep reading for the sole purpose of pleasure."—Journal of Education and Christian Belief

Library Journal
To the reader whose delight in books has diminished, Jacobs (English, Wheaton Coll.; The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis) provides a combined love letter to books and a pep talk for the act of reading, one that habitual readers will also enjoy. Jacobs shies away from directives and exhorts on behalf of whim—read what you are moved to read, not what you feel you ought to read. He eschews literary snobbery, too, consciously distancing himself from works such as Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren's How To Read a Book, which Jacobs finds too prescriptive. He examines the distractions present in daily life, including the Internet, which may erode the ability to pay deep attention. But this lost ground may be regained; Jacobs rediscovered his own ability to read by using a Kindle. VERDICT This book is just right for its audience, whom Jacobs names as "those who have caught a glimpse of what reading can give—pleasure, wisdom, joy." A vigorous and friendly exhortation to get back into the kind of reading that made you a reader in the first place. Recommended.—Audrey Snowden, formerly with Cleveland P.L.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199747498
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/26/2011
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 471,851
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet 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.

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Table of Contents

Yes, we can
Whim
All in your head
Aspirations
Upstream
Responsiveness
Kindling
Slowly, slowly
True confessions
Lost
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
Serendip
How it all started

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

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(3)

4 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

    Refreshing - sure to rekindle your love for books!

    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!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Lovely concise little book

    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!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2012

    I bought this book for my Nook after the article in the Chronicl

    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.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2011

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