Take Your Time

PleasuresOfReadingReading is fundamental. Those of us who grew up hearing that slogan have never forgotten it. The part that I wish had stuck better is just a touch shorter: reading is fun. Or it can be. Should be. Alan Jacobs’ little book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is like an extended essay on the subject. As a professor of literature, Jacobs has considerable experience encouraging people to read, and in his book he makes a case for reading what you want to read (reading on a Whim, he calls it). Wisely he recognizes that many would-be readers are discouraged by being instructed to read that which they don’t find appealing. I learned quite a lot from the suggestions contained herein, and I’ve been reading so long that I thought I knew pretty much what I needed to know about it. Perhaps the most fundamental issue (apart from reading itself) is that many of us expect to be told what to read. We second-guess our own judgment, feeling we need an expert to tell us how to do it. Like singing in public, it’s intimidating to come across someone better read than oneself. Jacobs advocates reading what gives you pleasure and not worrying about what others think.

Recognizing that readers are spoiled for choice, Jacobs addresses, among other topics, rereading. And taking notes. And reading slowly. I recall speed-reading courses advertised, ironically, on television. At college you could take courses in improving your quota of pages turned. There is a specific kind of reading, as Jacobs notes—reading for information—where this may be helpful. This is different than reading for pleasure, or even reading for understanding. In the case of the Bible (Jacobs taught at Wheaton before moving on to Baylor) many people, he suggests, read for information rather than for understanding. When reading for pleasure taking your time is a virtue. Getting to know a book requires rereading. We need to make time for what is important.

Jacobs makes the point that readers are a minority sect. There have always been fewer of us than there have been of those who don’t read. We are, in his words, a tribe. We can generally spot one another. Those of us who can’t walk past a bookstore will recognize ourselves in the pages of this meditation. Those who spend long hours with books become like them, in some respects. Familiar, layered, and requiring more and more attention. Like the reading that it advocates, this book itself is a delight to read. There is so much in this brief volume that it’s difficult to summarize in the short-form writing that I use on this blog. I found myself wishing for an index so that I might find my favorite passages again. Then I realized that perhaps this absence was intentional. Maybe I’ll have to reread it, taking notes as I go. What a wonderful thought.

3 responses to “Take Your Time

  1. “reading what you want to read (reading on a Whim, he calls it)”

    I learned that lesson when I was young. I never cared much about reading, until I came to truly despise school the same year I discovered the wonders of the school library.

    I realized I could read interesting books instead of doing boring homework. I almost flunked out that year, but I gained a love of reading that I’ve never lost.

    I rediscovered the joy of libraries the semester I went to college before dropping out because I preferred reading to doing homework. A pattern was developing in my life. Who needs school when there are so many books!

    I always read what I want to read. This is the reason my formal education is a bit lacking. Yet I read more academic books than most people with college degrees. I think I come out ahead in this

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    • That’s one of the points Jacobs makes–self-led education is often more effective than institutionalized learning, especially when it comes to instilling a love of reading.

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      • There is no reason education should lead to a dislike of reading. I personally know well educated people who also learned the lesson of reading what they want to read. But I’ve also met those whose education has done irreparable harm to their relationship with books. It’s sad. That is the complete opposite impact education should ever have.

        Despite my own often bad experience of school, I’m a strong supporter of education and teaching the love of learning. I had some great teachers along the way and I never blame teachers for the problems of our education system. These days, teachers are forced to constantly teach to the test that they have little opportunity to encourage anything else.

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