Monday, February 25, 2013

Rapt / Absorbed / Engaged

      I'm reading a slim but excellent book called The Pleasures of Reading in the Age of Distraction, by Alan Jacobs.  It comes in at 150 pages.  Even reading it slowly -- which is how he recommends books should be read -- you'll still finish it in two or three days.  I've already underlined and starred and circled numerous paragraphs and sentences.   I'm up to page 107 and I know it will end soon, too soon.  And earlier I said "excellent book," but maybe, at the risk of sounding silly, I'd say it is a nutritious book: each page in this slim book is full of great observations; A lot in a little package.  So much, that I think this will be part 1 of a 2 part post on the book.  

     First, I want to share a fantastic poem by W.H. Auden that Mr. Jacobs uses to remind us that raptness, that being totally absorbed in a book is "deeply satisfying."  And it is this absorption Jacobs says that constitutes a vital part of life.  From W.H. Auden's Horae Canonciae (i.e., the Canonical Hours, or the times referred to as times of prayer):

You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.


to the first flaker of flints
who forgot his dinner,

the first collector of sea-shells
to remain celibate.

Where should we be but for them?
Feral still, un-housetrained, still

     I know I've been engrossed in a project or hobby before -- I've been "in the zone," as we like to say, and I remember coming out of it, well, happy.  

     Jacobs, as the title of his books implies, is trying to remind us to step away from life's distractions, away from all the Twitters and Facebook, the cell phones and the multi-tasking (which by the way, did you realize we are terrible at multitasking?  We simply execute each task worse then if we were to execute each task singularly). 

   Jacobs goes on to say that "there is something more beautiful, perhaps, when we achieve this "eye-on-the-object look" not because we have found our vocation but because we have found our avocation -- when the reason for our raptness is sheer and unmotivated delight.  This is what makes "readers," as opposed to "people who read."  To be lost in a book is genuinely addictive: someone who has had it a few times wants it again, and wants it enough, perhaps, to hide the damned BlackBerry for a couple of hours, please." [italics mine]

     First things first -- I'm going to finish this book, but I'm going to do so slowly and without distraction....I hope.


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