I'll take a distraction, please.
17 October 2011
We'll take a short break today from our list of 100 Best-ish Nonfiction Titles, while I digress on a book I read last week, and which I emphatically will not be adding to our best list.
In fact, if I was given the choice of either reading Alan Jacobs's book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction or indulging in a distraction like, say, poking at my eye with a sharp stick,* I think I'd have to choose the stick.
The title of this one was so alluring. And so was the length: 150 pages. I went into it primed to like it.
But I just didn't.
For one thing, there's this:
"Several times a year I get requests from people--usually students, but also friends and acquaintances, and even total strangers who have managed to find my email address--who want reading lists. 'Dear Professor Jacobs, could you please give me your recommendations for what I should read this summer?' Or, 'Dear Professor, in your opinion what are the ten most important books that every educated person should read?" I dislike that second question for reasons that are probably already clear, but the first I can't bring myself to dislike at all, since it's really a compliment in the form of a question.
Nonetheless, I never comply with these requests." (p. 13.)
And this in a part of the chapter labeled as "Whim." Good lord, Professor, how about engaging in a little Whim and just throwing these people a bone in the form of a reading list? Are you or are you not a professor of English? Now, in all fairness, a little bit further down the page he says he doesn't mind suggesting books if people first tell him what they like and then ask for recommendations--but I would point out he can turn reading list questions into that type of request simply by asking those who ask him for lists to describe their reading habits. It's not hard, Professor--librarians do it every day, for a lot less money and fewer sabbaticals.
And then let's talk about how he later digresses about how reading for Whim (with a capital W) differs from reading for whim. And how he was naughty when he was twenty and failed to finish a novel for the first time: William Gaddis's The Recognitions, which he put down after only reading to page...666. Good lord. This man and I are clearly not in the same reading room. I'm ditching this one at page 51, and I'm not going to feel that it's naughty, either. Or if I do, it's deliciously naughty.
I'm sorry I'm not really describing the book all that well, but this is another one of those "pleasures/importance of reading" books that never really seem to get to the point. I think his general idea was that you should read because it's pleasurable, not because it's good for you, although it can be. There. I just saved you 150 pages' worth of reading (pleasurable or otherwise) time.
*Blame my dad for this image. One of his favorite sayings, when something doesn't meet my expectations, is to say "Well, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye."