Friday, March 1, 2013

Rapt / Absorbed / Engaged pt2

     Alan Jacobs'  The Pleasure of Reading in the Age of Distraction deserves a long, glowing book review.  I needed two posts just to do some justice to this slim work.  There's many topics that taken by themselves fill entire books (e.g., Gutenburg's printing press ushering in the age of information overload and more reading, not necessarily closer reading).  So here, in no particular order, are some of the highlights:

  •  Readers and Humility.  Jacobs introduces us to the Abbot of "the great monastery of St. Victor in Paris."  The Abbot Hugh.  The Abbot reminds us that as readers we need be mindful of intellectual snobbery; to mind our pride.  "For the reader there are three lessons taught by humility that are particularly important:  First, that he hold no knowledge or writing whatsoever in contempt.  Second, that he not blush to learn from any man.  Third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon anyone else."  Jacobs then says, "armed with this humility, the reader can safely pursue the wisdom to be gained from reading, the reader can become a true student." 

  • Solitude.  Essential for reading closely and reading well, for reflection and thought.  As Jacobs says, "imaginative engagement can only come through the written word when the reader possesses, or is possessed by, deep solitude -- whether that solitude is given by circumstance or created, even in the midst of a crowd, by force of will sharpened by habit."  We have to create our solitude, or we have to shut others out and create our "cone of silence."  Or sometimes we have to "unplug" from the world.  This is something I think that is extremely difficult for many of us to do today.  And it reminded me of a excellent lecture presented by William Deresiewicz to the West Point class of 2009.  Published in the American Scholar and titled Solitude and Leadership, it's worth reading as well.

  • Reread.  Most of us probably don't pick up a book a second time and read it again.  I struggle because I know I have stacks of books that I want to read.  I know my time is limited, but I can't read everything. So wouldn't you just read as widely as possible?  Finish a book and pick a new one up, and so on?  Jacobs however, reminds us that "some books hold more value, more counsel perhaps, or simple insight, that we can receive at a single reading."  

    There's so much more.  Jacobs closes with a great clarion call  worth repeating here:  "nonreaders outnumber us -- always have and always will -- but we can always find one another and are always eager to welcome others into the fold.  May our tribe increase."

 Indeed. Well said Mr. Jacobs. Well said.

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