Is reading a chore for you?

Do you find it difficult to sit and focus on a book for an hour?

The following excerpt is from Deep Attention, Lauren Winner’s thoughtful, thorough reflections on the new Alan Jacobs book The Pleasures of Reading in the Age of Distraction

One day, Jacobs was standing at his local Borders (may it rest in peace) carrying a great stack of books, including Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 800-page The Reformation, and Neal Stephenson’s 960-page Anathem. Where was he going to put them all, Jacobs wondered. “Forget this, I said to myself. I’m getting a Kindle. And I did.” The Kindle “kept me reading.” Using an e-reader, Jacobs found that his attention stayed fixed on Anathem. His hand had something to click, so he needn’t reach for his iPhone. Furthermore, unlike many other technological devices, e-readers (at least in their present incarnation) “promote linearity.” It takes so much effort to reverse the forward motion of the Kindle that the person reading doesn’t—and then he finds himself wholly absorbed in whatever novel or political exposé or sonnet cycle is right there in front of him. All this led Jacobs to conclude, contra readerly Luddites (like me), that “it’s not reasonable to think of ‘technology’ … as the enemy of reading.”

The true enemy of reading is a sibilant voice that begins telling us, around about middle school, that reading is something we do not because we enjoy it, but because it will make us somehow better. The voice tells us that reading is something we should do—we should read a book the way we take a vitamin. Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading is, above all, a brief for enjoyment. Jacobs reminds us that most of us learned to read by being read to as children—we learned to read in the lap of a loving parent, grandparent, or aunt. Reading thus “starts for many of us in a warm cocoon of security, accompanied by an unassailable sense of being loved.” But it is “gradually and inexorably” turned into “a site of stress.” We have to read what we are told (explicitly or implicitly) to read, and we begin to think that reading is about self-improvement, not pleasure, let alone love.