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Reading Upward–for Pleasure

Imagine this scenario: someone writes a book called Why Don’t People Read Anymore?

That was supposed to be a joke. 

Actually, NPR published an April Fools’ Day article called “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” earlier this year. Many people didn’t actually click on the article, instead posting angry comments below it–“I do too read!”–before NPR revealed the prank. The real question, as Jay Hathaway later observed, isn’t why we don’t read. It’s why we comment when we’ve only read a headline.

It was a walk through a bookstore earlier today that got me into this train of thought. There were lots of books on reading–how to read literature like a professor, etc. The bad thing is that I’ve known professors who probably never read anything worthwhile. If you have to read like a professor, don’t read like those professors.

Alan Jacobs, a professor at Wheaton College, doesn’t think you should read like a professor, either. In fact, he says, he began to lose his ability to read for pleasure because he was so used to scanning what he read for important information. His book is The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. It is a mostly pleasurable read, fortunately.

Jacobs takes on people who argue that you should read what is “good for you.” That, he says, is precisely what you should not do. If you only read what’s good for you, regardless of whether it interests you and even whether you can understand it, then you’ll lose the ability to read for pleasure. (You also may not understand what the book in question is talking about. In sum–you’re wasting your time.)

Yet Jacobs also suggests reading upward. What he means by that is, if you like The Lord of the Rings, try reading Beowulf. Don’t read downward, to cheap fantasies that have none of Tolkien’s power. Read for pleasure! Poorly written stuff simply isn’t as rewarding. And if you like Jane Austen, read other novelists of her era. Don’t read downward to all the Jane Austen “sequels.” They aren’t nearly as pleasurable as Austen. If you turn to them out of a love for Austen, you’re cheating yourself.

Above all, enjoy your reading time. Jacobs apparently considers lying about what you have read a lesser evil than never reading anything for pleasure. Personally, I’d rather know someone who forced themself through Plato’s Republic to no benefit than someone who would prefers seeming intelligent to being honest. A comment like that makes me wonder whether Jacobs has ever known a pathological liar. Short version–it makes you hate lying.

So read upward–for pleasure. And if admitting that you read for pleasure embarrasses you in front of your friends, ditch the friends.

Please.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2014 in Nonfiction

 

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Reading Christianly | Dogfuranddandelions.com

You heard lectures on what you should be reading from your parents, in school, and from your pastor…but what do you believe? The guest post I wrote for the Dogfuranddandelions blog, “Reading Christianly,” is my partial answer to that question. And no, the solution is not “Stick to the Left Behind series.” 😉

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Classic Literature, Guest

 

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Liking “Kid Books”

I was waiting for one of my sophomore classes to begin, my nose in an E. Nesbit story, when another student plopped down next to me.

“What are you reading?”

“A kid book,” I said. “It’s hard to get through anything more complicated in the middle of a semester.”

The other student smiled. “I like kid books.”

Incidentally, so do I, although I didn’t read most of my favorites until I was at least in high school. And it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I discovered E. Nesbit. I have C.S. Lewis to thank for that discovery. Considering that Lewis didn’t discover The Wind in the Willows until he was in his twenties, I suppose I shouldn’t feel so guilty.

Unfortunately, I seem to suffer from a perpetually guilty conscience, at least so far as my reading isconcerned. Such as the fact that I didn’t read all of The Chronicles of Narnia until high school. Or E. Nesbit and The Wind in the Willows until my sophomore year of college. I still haven’t finished Treasure Island, and that doesn’t even begin to cover my [real, in this case] guiltiness over The Lord of the Rings.

My confession goes something like this. I had always associated The Lord of the Rings with video gaming. And I hate video games. As a result, I didn’t touch the series until my senior year of high school. By that point, I had read enough C.S. Lewis to find out that he was friends with J.R.R. Tolkien. I figured that anyone who was friends with Lewis must not be a video gamer, so I decided to read part of The Lord of the Rings for one of my senior book reports.

I picked the wrong part. Partly I blame the library; but my ignorance was the greater culprit. I looked in the children’s section for the first part of LOTR, not realizing that it was more likely to be found in the young adult section. The only part of LOTR in the children’s section was The Return of the King. So I took it home and read it.

Yes, I know that I wasn’t supposed to do that. Unlike Frodo, I don’t believe I’ll have permanent scars from the experience–but it was quite an experience.

But after all, LOTR isn’t really a children’s book, although many children enjoy reading it. According to Tolkien’s friend Lewis, however, that fact is actually a good thing. “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children,” he argued, “is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Some of the books that I read when I was actually a child definitely fall under Lewis’s ban. They weren’t really worth reading when I was a child, and they’re certainly not worth reading now. At the same time, some of the “kid books” I’ve discovered after my “kid” days were over are more valuable to me than they could have been when I was younger.

Take the story that Lewis neglected for so long, The Wind in the Willows. I disliked most books about animals when I was a child. There was one book about a cat that I read more than once, but I think my main reason was because the cat ran away, got beaten up, and caught (I think) pneumonia. The Wind in the Willows doesn’t have quite that level of pathos. But it is far funnier, as well as more poetic, than my childhood’s volume about the wandering feline. When I was in elementary school, I had no intention of sympathizing with a Rat, a Mole, a Toad, or anything with four legs and fur. Now I consider the Water Rat something of a kindred spirit. My tastes have grown.

When I start feeling guilty about some of the stories that I didn’t read until I was technically too old for them, I remember Lewis’s comments about good children’s stories. I console myself with knowing that I have developed a greater appreciation for quality children’s literature. And I reach for another E. Nesbit book.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2012 in Children's Literature

 

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