You don’t have to be an academic slogging over books to review or student papers to grade in order to have lost the joy of reading. But wherever you are on the spectrum between joy and aversion, I suspect you’ll find some unexpected delights in Alan Jacobs’s The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Jacobs warns against reading patterns that stifle enjoyment (i.e. tackling the top 50 books of the twentieth century), embraces technology as a means of restoring readerly inertia (e.g. he loves his Kindle), values the role of the social dimension in the reading process (e.g. blog posts and letter writing each foster meditation and reflection), and encourages readers to avoid the temptation to read only the classics (namely, you can’t eat steak at every meal).
Many books on reading require a vast knowledge of literature to appreciate. It’s a rather deflating prospect, I think. Who would want to read a book that tells you how little you know? Jacobs’s book isn’t like that—just uncommon wisdom, from a seasoned teacher, in prose I enjoyed.
This thoughtful meditation on accidental discoveries gives a taste of the whole:
“Plan once appealed to me, but I have grown to be a natural worshiper of Serendipity and Whim; I can try to serve other gods, but my heart is never in it. I truly think I would rather read an indifferent book on a lark than a fine one according to schedule and plan. And why not? After all, once upon a time we chose none of our reading: it all came to us unbidden, unanticipated, unknown, and from the hand of someone who loved us” (145).
Perhaps serendipity in reading is but the hand of God.