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Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of...

Jun 03, 2012
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Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

A wonderful read about reading. Would make a great companion or gift set bundled with How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.

Like a lot of authors, I often hear from readers, “You wrote things that I was already thinking, but put them into words that I couldn’t, or didn’t.” (You must take this as a compliment, not a hint at your lack of originality — writing is an organization of thought, even if those thoughts have already been had.) I’d like to extend the same compliment to Alan, as he further articulated a lot of my own ideas about reading (with a ton of his own!) and dropped a lot of my favorite quotes: Zadie Smith on the joylessness of reading in English departmetns, David Foster Wallace) on the freedom of thought a liberal (and therefore, liberating) education gives you, James Murphy on pretension, Michael Chabon on fan fiction…

Some of those thoughts:

Fuck snobbery. Read what you like.


  Read at whim! Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame.


Reading, at its best, is an experience. (Take it slow.)

To paraphrase Lynda Barry, with both reading and writing and drawing, when we’re young we go to the page to have an experience, not to just ingest or disseminate information.


  I believe that most people read quickly because they want not to read but to have read. But why do they want to have read? Because, I think, they conceive of reading simply as a means of uploading information to their brains… though few people realize it, many books become more boring the faster you read them.


Writing in your books is a way to make them your own.

And use a pen, not a highlighter:


  I am not a fan of the highlighter. Highlighters allow you very quickly and easily to mark a text, but only by covering it with a bright color; and the very quickness and easiness of the process are inimical to the kind of responsiveness I’m recommending… With a highlighter you can have a text marked before you’ve even had time to ask yourself why you’re marking it


Imitation can push into emulation and pretension can lead to understanding.


  Young people often signal through their pretensions what they hope to become… They see people whom they admire, or are in some way attracted to, and they try to copy the preferences of those paragons. Such copying can lead to more and more pretension; but in many cases the pretense becomes real: the tastes we aspire to often become our own tastes.


When you read an author you love, climb their family tree.


  We can turn our temporal attention upstream rather than downstream—toward what preceded Tolkien or Austen or whomever rather than what succeeded them. After all, Austen became the Austen we know largely through her reading—something that is true of almost all writers… If you imitate them in that sense—not by trying to write what they wrote but to read what they read—you’ll find your horizons expanding, your mind stretching, your resources of knowledge coming near their limits…


Sometimes it’s not the book, but the book that book leads you to.


  [T]he best of all results when one is swimming up the literary stream [is] to find writers and works you love even more than the ones that prompted your adventure.


Reading books doesn’t automatically make you a better person.

(This is something you learn from your interactions with many English professors and library patrons.)


  As the eighteenth-century scientist G.C. Lichtenberg once wrote, “A book is like a mirror: if an ass looks in, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.”


The thinking is that even if kids read garbage, they’ll eventually make their way to the good stuff, but:


  Why is it that when kids become enraptured by some idiotic program, no one says, ‘Well, at least they’re watching TV?’ ”


Thanks to Frank for the recommendation.

Follow @ayjay on Twitter→

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

A wonderful read about reading. Would make a great companion or gift set bundled with How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.

Like a lot of authors, I often hear from readers, “You wrote things that I was already thinking, but put them into words that I couldn’t, or didn’t.” (You must take this as a compliment, not a hint at your lack of originality — writing is an organization of thought, even if those thoughts have already been had.) I’d like to extend the same compliment to Alan, as he further articulated a lot of my own ideas about reading (with a ton of his own!) and dropped a lot of my favorite quotes: Zadie Smith on the joylessness of reading in English departmetns, David Foster Wallace) on the freedom of thought a liberal (and therefore, liberating) education gives you, James Murphy on pretension, Michael Chabon on fan fiction…

Some of those thoughts:

Fuck snobbery. Read what you like.

Read at whim! Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame.

Reading, at its best, is an experience. (Take it slow.)

To paraphrase Lynda Barry, with both reading and writing and drawing, when we’re young we go to the page to have an experience, not to just ingest or disseminate information.

I believe that most people read quickly because they want not to read but to have read. But why do they want to have read? Because, I think, they conceive of reading simply as a means of uploading information to their brains… though few people realize it, many books become more boring the faster you read them.

Writing in your books is a way to make them your own.

And use a pen, not a highlighter:

I am not a fan of the highlighter. Highlighters allow you very quickly and easily to mark a text, but only by covering it with a bright color; and the very quickness and easiness of the process are inimical to the kind of responsiveness I’m recommending… With a highlighter you can have a text marked before you’ve even had time to ask yourself why you’re marking it

Imitation can push into emulation and pretension can lead to understanding.

Young people often signal through their pretensions what they hope to become… They see people whom they admire, or are in some way attracted to, and they try to copy the preferences of those paragons. Such copying can lead to more and more pretension; but in many cases the pretense becomes real: the tastes we aspire to often become our own tastes.

When you read an author you love, climb their family tree.

We can turn our temporal attention upstream rather than downstream—toward what preceded Tolkien or Austen or whomever rather than what succeeded them. After all, Austen became the Austen we know largely through her reading—something that is true of almost all writers… If you imitate them in that sense—not by trying to write what they wrote but to read what they read—you’ll find your horizons expanding, your mind stretching, your resources of knowledge coming near their limits…

Sometimes it’s not the book, but the book that book leads you to.

[T]he best of all results when one is swimming up the literary stream [is] to find writers and works you love even more than the ones that prompted your adventure.

Reading books doesn’t automatically make you a better person.

(This is something you learn from your interactions with many English professors and library patrons.)

As the eighteenth-century scientist G.C. Lichtenberg once wrote, “A book is like a mirror: if an ass looks in, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.”

The thinking is that even if kids read garbage, they’ll eventually make their way to the good stuff, but:

Why is it that when kids become enraptured by some idiotic program, no one says, ‘Well, at least they’re watching TV?’ ”


Thanks to Frank for the recommendation.

Follow @ayjay on Twitter→

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