I just came across this City Journal review of Alan Jacobs' new book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction:
“The one prudence in life is concentration,” wrote Emerson in The Conduct of Life; “the one evil is dissipation: and it makes no difference whether our dissipations are coarse or fine.” But in an age that places a premium on multitasking, who among us can honestly claim to be concentrating on “one or a few points,” as Emerson urges us to do? Perhaps nothing has been harmed so much by the flood of data and information that inundates modern life as the practice of deep reading—or even, one is troubled to find, relatively shallow reading. Earlier this year I lent a friend my copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a modern fantasy novel that I last read as a teenager. A few weeks later I asked whether he was enjoying it. He had tried to read it, he said, but admitted it couldn’t hold his attention now that he had reactivated his Netflix account. [Ed: There's a lot of great stuff on Netflix!]
In his new book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Wheaton College literature professor Alan Jacobs addresses the impediments to reading today and makes a case for reading as something for which we should lay aside, however temporarily, our passive entertainments. Jacobs is an affable teacher, given to using “we” and offering encouragement to “those who believe or fear that serious reading is beyond their reach.” To this end, he takes up the question of whether, having once lost the ability to concentrate on a good book, one can ever regain it. The author, himself a recovered casualty of technological distraction, sees reason for hope. He won the victory by fighting tech with tech—switching from paper books to Amazon’s Kindle, whose Next button occupied his twitchy thumb, freeing his mind for sustained attention to the text. Through the novelty of an e-reader he found a way out of what he calls “the Great Digital Skinner Box,” and he means to return, Moses-like, to set the captives free.
Of course, this kind of book is like catnip for book reviewers.
Not that that's a bad thing. I hope mine is, too.