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Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 162pp.Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 162pp.

           When my wife was a little girl, her family enjoyed an evening ritual. While her mother washed the dishes, her father read aloud to the family. Our own children inherited this legacy. I'm sure my wife read aloud hundreds of books to our three children. Yes, we read Tolkien's trilogy and Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, both multiple times, but we also read Harry Potter and the Hardy Boys. Which is to say we read because it was fun. Our kids would argue to read "their" book aloud, since it was not unusual to have a couple going at the same time. Then there was the neighborhood mother-daughter book club that began in the third grade, enjoyed a nine-year run, and then morphed into the MOD Squad ("Mothers of Daughters") when the girls left for college.

           People read for many reasons, observes Alan Jacobs. Some people read to impress others or to gain their approval. Others read to glean information, and still others read what they think are "important" books that "experts" have said will make them a better person (cf. Alan Bloom). The best reason to read, though, says Jacobs, is for the joy and pleasure it brings. Reading has some utilitarian ends, at least some of the time, but better yet is reading for its own sake, as an end in itself.

           Jacobs is an intellectual and professor of English, but when it comes to reading he's an egalitarian rather than an elitist. He, too, likes Harry Potter. He describes himself as a "proud and happy Kindle owner." He knows what it's like to be distracted from reading by 140-character Twitter texts and addiction to email. But he also reflects in this book on how and why we read, including things like note-taking, the relationship between the solitary act of reading and social connectedness, reading slowly, reading with critical interaction, rereading books, falling in and out of love with a certain title, and tips for deepening your joy of reading (read "upstream to see where your favorite authors came from"). So, follow your Whim and pick up a book — not whims in the sense of aimless desire, but rather what you know gives you joy, whether that's a title from Oprah's Book Club or a family favorite from yesteryear.

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