My best read this month goes to Alan Jacobs for The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. When I went to the library last week it was to find a fantasy novel (yes, I still use my reading rotation system–I went to find where I had posted it and it looks like I never have! Well there’s a Wednesday topic for next month). After selecting an Arthurian novel, I permitted myself to browse and discovered a copy of Jacobs’ book (of which I’d blogged, Read What You Like, back in March).
I love to read. It is one of my greatest pleasures. However, life is so crazy-hectic that I understand Jacob’s premise—that the ability to sit back and savor extended texts, “books,” is an important skill that must be practiced lest our attention-span for sustained thinking, reading engagement be lost to our sound-bite, twitter-feed culture.
My library copy of the book is bristling with sticky notes marking passages I wish to add to my quote collections. There is so much to reflect upon after reading this book. However, I’ll pull out a random three passages and let Jacob’s words, or those of some of the writers he quoted, speak for themselves:
When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where I am received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions: and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. ~Niccolo Machiavelli
I hope you understand, lacking Jacobs’ set-up, Machievelli is talking about spending his evenings reading!
Discussing the internet, Jacobs refers to the writings of Sam Anderson and Cory Doctorow:
“The internet is basically a Skinner box engineered to tap right into our deepest mechanisms of addiction. (Many metaphors for this situation may suggest themselves: I am also fond of Cory Doctorow’s comment that “the biggest impediment to concentration is your computer’s ecosystem of interruption technologies.”)
Many of us try to console ourselves in the midst of the blooming and buzzing by claiming the powers of multi-tasking. But a great deal of very thorough research into multitasking has been done in recent years, and it has produced some unequivocally clear results, chief among them being: no one actually multitasks, instead, we shift among different tasks and give attention to only one at any given time.
Now don’t think Jacobs suggests we unplug from the internet and banish our computers. He acknowledges, as do I, that when we choose to use them, they are marvelous servants that help us do an amazing range of things. What he’s saying, I think, is that we ought not allow our computers and the internet to become our tyrants.
This last quote is short, sweet, and perfect to conclude with. Jacobs quotes Penelope Fitzgerald, “Twice in your life you know you are approved of by everyone—when you learn to walk and when you learn to read.” The power reading gives you over your life, your attitudes, your future, and your mind are generally acknowledged by everybody. Engage in reading; engage with the authors; engage with the texts. You will be the richer for it.
P.S. I also loved Jacobs’ biography of C.S. Lewis—The Narnian. If you haven’t read it yet, you are doubly in need of a trip to the bookstore or library!