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The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,722 ratings  ·  364 reviews
In recent years, cultural commentators have sounded the alarm about the dire state of reading in America. Americans are not reading enough, they say, or reading the right books, in the right way.

In this book, Alan Jacobs argues that, contrary to the doomsayers, reading is alive and well in America. There are millions of devoted readers supporting hundreds of enormous book

Hardcover, 162 pages
Published May 26th 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published April 25th 2011)
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3.92  · 
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 ·  1,722 ratings  ·  364 reviews

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May 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Melki by: Jane Reye
“Twice in your life you know you are approved of by everyone—when you learn to walk and when you learn to read.” ~ Penelope Fitzgerald

I doubt few of us here on Goodreads need to be reminded of the pleasures of reading. It's something we experience every day, as much and as often as time permits.

Here Jacobs discusses how his reading habits have changed since the advent (and distractions) of electronic devices:

I get twitchy within just a few minutes of sitting down with a book—I have noticed that
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
You have to love a lit professor who counsels you to step away from the “must read list” and if you’re afraid of others judging you for not reading the proper books, lie. Tell them you read War and Peace and just read the synopsis on Wikipedia to get the plot gist.

The author goes to great lengths to avoid presenting a “how to be a better reader” tract. He hates that many people read purely for information or because they feel they must read certain books. His goal is to have you rediscover joy i
Aaron Choi
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reading
I loved this book. A helpful corrective to the "bucket list" approach to reading, Jacobs is even willing to take some shots at the venerable, "How to Read a Book" (Adler & Van Doren). Perhaps verging on blasphemous to literary enthusiasts, the book is also a necessary voice of admonition in an age when we are all susceptible to veering toward a list like, "10 Books Everyone Should Read," and its related variants. Jacobs speaks about the importance of reading based on whim (or rather, Whim), ...more
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars, rounded up.
A nice discourse on 21st century readerly anxieties -- our deficient attention spans, our ambitions and egos about the books we read and how school has both helped and harmed our reading habits. Jacobs's style is ironically a little distracting at times; his sentences are very long, if clever, and he interrupts almost every page with a foot note that takes up half the space for regular text on several two-page spreads -- but I liked this a lot, even though I was glad when
Anne Bogel
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is best enjoyed slowly, a few pages at a time. I expected Jacobs to be stuffy, but he won my heart when he called Harold Bloom a snob. Lots of good nuggets and insights for book lovers.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Well, I'm not really sure I needed to read this. First of all because Professor Alan Jacobs is preaching to the choir. I love to read, and read on whims all the time, as he recommends. Second of all, he quotes heavily from 3-4 texts, two of which I've read recently (The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and the commencement address to Kenyon by DFW). However it is a short read (150 pages of text, many many big blocks of quotations, 12 pages of endnotes) and offers a perspective on why we should not read ...more
Feb 28, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: reading, non-fiction
Alissa Wilkinson's review is here, where she also reviews Tony Reinke's Lit! More on reading for fun, by J. I. Packer.

Jimmy Kimmel recently (May 2018) cited a Pew Research Center study (March 2018) that reported that only about 1 in 4 people read a book last year; Kimmel send a team out to ask people to name a book—any book, such as the Bible or Fifty Shades of Grey. It did not go well.
Onaiza Khan
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It has been a very long time since I couldn't bring myself to put down a book. And especially non-fiction. It is one of those books that connect to your very core (a reader's core(a true reader, i.e.,)) and leaves you wanting for more.

Most of the things that I've learned from this book, I think I had already learned through my experiences of reading in the past few years, but this book was like the final, peaceful and consolatory confirmation of my discoveries which again made me feel that I am
Dec 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
The caveat lector on the front page of the book explains best who the book is for:

Those who have always disliked reading, or who have been left indifferent by it, may find little of interest here. But those who have caught a glimpse of what reading can give - pleasure, wisdom, joy - even if that glimpse came long ago, are the audience for whom this book was written.

And it is indeed a book that lovers of reading will love. Jacobs' own love of reading comes through in this carefully crafted contem
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3 1/2 stars

A book for readers about reading - perfect! I did really like this delightful little book and found many worthwhile nuggets. His thoughts on rereading were probably my favorite. A few favorite quotes:

“A first encounter with a worthwhile book is never a complete encounter, and we are usually in error to make it a final one.”

“I mentioned early in this book the kind of rereading distinctive of a fan--the Tolkien addict, say, or the devotee of Jane Austen or Trollope or the Harry Potter
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Be conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”-David Foster Wallace

Ironic perhaps, but this little book about the pleasures of reading filled me with such immense pleasure. Jacobs makes it very clear that he doesn’t want to tell us what to read but rather introduces some concepts he believes enrich our reading experience. Among them is the concept of “whim”. Don’t make long lists of books you want to read in a certain
Jay Hinman
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an exceptionally edifying little tome about how one might seek to cultivate and nurture a love of book-length reading in our digital age, whether one already has nurtured that love of reading or not. It's author Alan Jacobs' argument - as well as that of many others - that contemplative, lost-in-a book-style reading is at risk of being lost in an age of multitasking, beeping smartphones and the ever-present siren song of the internet, which both promises and delivers so much of what we w ...more
Matt Pitts
Oct 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-reading-life
It's a dangerous thing to write a book about the pleasures of reading, because that book itself must also be a pleasure to read. Jacobs has succeeded admirably in writing such a book; it gives pleasure while reminding readers of the pleasure of reading (other books).

Those who loved to read, or remember when they loved to read, but have since wandered off the reading path with will both enjoy and be encouraged by this book. Jacobs' love for books and anecdote's about others' love for books can't
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
We're you once a thriving reader, but have recently"lost touch":Books no longer hold your attention for more than a few minutes, and you allow technology to constantly distract you from the book in hand? Read this book (Don't worry, it's short, and can be consumed in small bites.)

If you've ever been one of those "check-list people," who rarely reads for pleasure, but always to strike items of a literary bucket list --- for the benefit of all readers everywhere, you must read this book.

If you are
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
If you've read Adler's How to Read a Book, then Jacobs will give some balance to your perspective. Where Adler is more systematic, Jacob is "whimsical"—I suppose the intended pun doesn't land superbly without prior knowledge of the book.

But Jacob wants to put the pleasure back in reading and reading what you want to read, because reading is first and foremost about pleasure and secondarily about gaining information.

This isn't a perfect book, but it's light and fun in spots. The theologian in me
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Alan Jacobs did not like and does not endorse How to Read a Book, which made me like him immediately. He also does not endorse lists like "100 books to read before you die," and he doesn't endorse sites like goodreads, because he doesn't think reading should be about how many books we've read or how fast we read them. That's probably a relief to many of us, including me.

Instead, one of his main points is that reading should be about Whim. (Yes, capital W.) In other words, read what you want to r
Matthew Richey
A pleasurable read that effectively argues for reading for pleasure.
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Jacobs' book started a little slow for me, even up till 20% of it, but I am glad I soldiered on. About 70% into it I realised that I was experiencing the sort of elation that one feels when you read a book that gets you - or you get - either way I felt very glad that I had picked it up, out of "serendipity" - a theme that is addressed within the book.

As I mentioned, the book started a little slow, on why we read and why we should read at whim. Since I already do read a lot, and mostly at whim,
Sue Dix
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
The irony of including this book in my reading challenge is that the author declaims against reading lists. This book, rather, encourages Whim in our choices of reading. I do allow Whim in my reading, but I also like book lists and reading challenges. I do agree with the author about the merits of rereading and even though this does not aid me in my book challenge, it is satisfying to read something familiar and to, perhaps, find something missed in previous readings.
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
A little over a year ago, I was genuinely worried I'd lost the ability to read novels. I'm back in the reading zone now, mostly, but I still carry this weird guilt that I'm not just like reading the Most Important Classics Of All Time (I was def the type of kid who made multiple lists of Great Books to Read and anxiously tried to make my way through it. Ravenclaw from birth, what can I say).

This book is sort of a strange mishmash of reading science, theories on what to read and why, and tons of
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-19, practical, books
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is a delightful discussion about the trials and tribulations, as well as joys, of the reading life. It has no chapter breaks, but is instead organized as one long, rambling, yet coherent essay divided into sections that mark changes of direction in the author's whimsy. Within those sections is lots of good advice for readers of all kinds, but especially discouraged readers - those who can't read a few pages without getting distracted, or have bee ...more
Julie Barrett
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Short, enjoyable book about reading. He doesn't delve into how to manage distractions as much as the title would suggest. Rather, the author states his focus is more on why people who used to enjoy reading now no longer find themselves reading as much as they used to. However, he doesn't really have any concrete suggestions for how to change that either.

Instead, this book brings up issues that face readers. How do we pick the books we do read? Do we follow our own desires or do we look to others
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-to-read
I read this book really quickly just so I could say I read it. 😉

This is a very good perspective in that category of "media ecology" that is becoming an important topic today. The concept reading long, slow, and for pleasure is something I need to cultivate. A very delightful and challenging read.
This book - relatively easy and engaging to read, even for a non-English literature major - breathes new energy into my reading, even when I haven't been gasping for breath). (Thankfully easy too, because I can imagine a book about reading ironically being anything but "readerly", dense and an absolute chore.) But also well-informed and referenced. I quickly got used to the section divisions that displaced the arrangement of the book into chapters. I have long enjoyed reading, but felt I suffere ...more
This is the second book I've read this month that I wish I had written myself. Either I'm becoming more and more unoriginal, or I've turned into an expert at choosing books that will reassure me in what I already know I think. I'm not sure which of these possibilities is more depressing, but none of them change the fact that this is a perfect little book.

And I couldn't have written this one anyway. Mr. Jacobs is a much more dedicated reader than I will ever be. But -big but- he is in no way a pr
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A short read to help us reconsider why and how should we read. This book goes through multiple reasons why sometimes reading is not pleasurable and does not yield much benefit to the reader, which are very relatable. Sometimes I force myself to read because I think, at this point of my life, I should have read some particular books or prevent myself from some books because I’m worried about my advancement. Sometimes I want to sit down and read for hours, but I keep distracting myself with other ...more
Matt Simmons
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
A solid, highly readable summation of many of the ideas circulating about how technology changes our patterns of attention, what the good of reading is, etc. from the late '00s/early '10s. But Jacobs isn't writing a jeremiad here; he's rather frank and honest about his own foibles, and the flaws of his profession (literature professor) in hurting reading as well. This slim little book is itself a pleasure to read, and aims to be a sort of reply to all the "how to read" books of the 20th century, ...more
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alan Jacobs would be be glad to know that no one forced me to read this book, and I did enjoy it. This booked helped me to pause and consider why I read and how ill encourage my kids to read. He names many of the strange ways of thinking surrounding reading and takes the air out of many of them.
Samuel James
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the essential "books about books."
Ben Smitthimedhin
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this on my Kindle during a trip to Iowa City for an academic conference. The girl who was sitting next to me on the airplane was reading from The New Yorker, and I had a feeling that she was also on her way to the University of Iowa (probably because her tablet had a picture of the U of I as its background). I figured I should make some friends on the way there, so I could have someone to hang out with during the conference. Someone I could talk to about my fears of being alone at an acad ...more
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I grew up in Alabama, attended the University of Alabama, then got my PhD at the University of Virginia. Since 1984 I have been teaching at Wheaton College in Illinois. My dear wife Teri and I have been married for thirty years. Our son Wes begins college this fall, and to our shock, decided to go to Wheaton. I think he will avoid Dad, though.

My work is hard to describe, at least for me, because i
“Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame. And even if you are that rare sort of person who is delighted chiefl y by what some people call Great Books, don’t make them your steady intellectual diet, any more than you would eat at the most elegant of restaurants every day. It would be too much. Great books are great in part because of what they ask of their readers: they are not readily encountered, easily assessed.” 34 likes
“We should affirm the great value of reading just for the fun of it. . . . In my experience, Christians are strangely reluctant to take this advice. We tend to be earnest people, always striving for self-improvement, and can be suspicious of mere recreation. But God doesn’t just create, he takes delight in his creation, and expects us to delight in it too; and since he has given us the desire to make things ourselves—has allowed us to be “sub-creators,” as J. R. R. Tolkien says--we may rightly take delight in the things that we (and others) make. Reading for the sheer delight of it—reading at whim—is therefore one of the most important kinds of reading there is.” 9 likes
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