Whimsical comments on The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

Read this book as if you are having an evening chat with your English professor. If you do, you’ll enjoy it. Besides, to read at Whim is the argument of the book. I would have rated this lower, had a quit half-way through. Jacobs begins the book with strong words against the classic, How to Read a Book by Adler and Van Doren. (Admittedly, attacking a book I have loved is not a great way to endear me to his book. This is probably a big reason why I was so cool toward the book for the first half.) He sets them up as the paradigmatic ‘good books are good for you’ approach which foists giant classics lists at young readers, guilting them into reading them. This approach becomes the foil against which he presents his approach, to read according to Whim. The serious problem that I have with this approach is that it certainly seems like Jacobs himself doesn’t know what he means by this. There are points in his own argument where he actually admits that a given point he is making seems to (seems to!) contradict with his thesis. I think many of his later points actually do contradict his thesis, but this is simply because he thesis does not demonstrate clear thought. Generally I agree with Jacobs. And perhaps I might even agree with him particularly if we discussed this in person. But as a paradigmatic example of my frustrations with his argument, I’ll use the Adler/Van Doren example. Jacobs doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the highest degree of artistic enjoyment (and freedom!) is actually the fruit of long cultivation. Don’t we sit with envy watching the concert pianist play ‘at whim,’ wishing we possessed the skill to play with such passion and freedom? But this can occur only after long years of playing both (at times) at whim and (at others) decidedly not. Nor does he seem to recognize that many people read Adler and Van Doren because they already love reading. My experience with the book was absolutely nothing like what Jacobs describes. I poured through it eagerly, not out of a sense of intellectual obligation, but rather with a fresh sense that the tools therein might be invaluable to heighten my joy in reading. So to summarize, I’m seldom this frustrated by books that I end of liking. Four stars for sharing in Jacob’s love for reading (just don’t ask him what *you* should read–can one ask him for a wine recommendation?).

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Quotable: Nicholas Carr, on multitasking mode

“The problem today is not that we multitask. We’ve always multitasked. The problem is that we’re always in multitasking mode. The natural busyness of our lives is being amplified by the networked gadgets that constantly send us messages and alerts, bombard us with other bits of important and trivial information, and generally interrupt the train of our thought. The data barrage never lets up. As a result we devote ever less time to the calmer, more attentive modes of thinking that have always given richness to our intellectual lives and our culture–the modes of thinking that involve concentration, contemplation, reflection, introspection. The less we practice these habits of mind, the more we risk losing them altogether.”

– Nicholas Carr, as cited in Alan Jacob’s, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, 84.

Quotable: Lewis, on reading

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

Why I’m not Getting a Kindle

Quote: LINK

After emailing Amazon about [the lack of page numbers], and, like the previous poster, getting no response, I called. I could not believe the arrogance of Amazon’s position on this issue. The customer service representative I spoke with was very argumentative and held firm to the position that academia should “catch up with technology” and Amazon has no responsibility to address the page number issue because page numbers are antiquated. Her response to my concern was inappropriate–I definitely touched a nerve–and also indicated that she had heard this complaint before (probably multiple times). I think Amazon knows all too well about this issue and it doesn’t matter to them that they are alienating perhaps the most lucrative market (the academics) they could possible tap in to. If they want to just gear toward causal readers, that’s fine I suppose, but it’s unfortunate for us and ultimately for them too. I really hope they reconsider their position–the technology is amazing, but the way they are administering it just doesn’t work for me.

Do Millennials Read?

Do the Millennials Read? Yes, But They Read Differently:

Jeannie: “Getting Gen Y’s Attention: 101″ “Even if I had the money to buy every textbook I ever needed in college, most of them would have collected dust on my shelves all semester. One could chalk it up to having a typical Millenial attention span –one that understands thoughts in 140 characters or less – but just like my textbooks, I don’t buy that. Part of my complete disinterest in textbooks comes from the fact that the second a book is published today, it is pretty much obsolete. Since I was in fifth grade, I have been able to access almost any information on the Internet more quickly and accurately than I ever could in a textbook. Furthermore, this online information is free (or if it’s not free, I’ll go look on another site until I find it for free). With a limited budget and unlimited free resources, is there any kind of textbook that could ever capture my interest?

Katie Wall: “I Graduated From College Without Ever Checking Out A Book” “That’s right – in May of 2009 I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a school consistently ranked as one of the best public universities in the country, and never checked out a single book. I’m not saying that UNC-Chapel Hill wasn’t a challenging school – quite the opposite, actually, but for all of the time I spent reading and studying, I never once needed to check out a book from the library. When it came to writing research papers I was able to find everything I needed online…. because of various internet platforms, there were multitudes of valuable resources at my finger tips that once required digging through books and microfiches. The UNC library system had an incredible online database that housed an endless supply of books and scholarly journals, and I suspect that most universities are moving toward making more of their resources available online.”

Perhaps the biggest take away however, is that Millennials are capable of taking in a lot of visual information at once, probably more than older generations, provided it is presented in an attractive and easily digestible way. This makes good design as important, if not more important, than good writing. In studies where we have had an opportunity to compare age groups, it is striking how much more attuned younger consumers are to the way information appears on the page. Older consumers tend to overlook poor design and focus on the meaning. Millennials have a hard time getting past the way it looks.

Defining Literacy Down

Every generation worries about the next — and usually with good reason. Here is another reason for worry about today’s adolescents and young adults — they don’t read. That is a generalization, of course. But the generalization seems to be holding true.

Thomas Washington, librarian at a Washington, DC area private school, recently contributed a “lament” to The Washington Post. The kids are privileged and have no problem of access to books, but they do not read. As he reports:

I’m a librarian in an independent Washington area school. We’re doing all the right things. Our class sizes are small. Most graduating seniors gain admission to their college of choice. The facilities are first-rate.

Yet from my vantage point at the reference desk, something is amiss. The books in the library stacks are gathering dust.

Read On