City Journal Winter 2016

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Winter 2016
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Brian Patrick Eha
Reading Beats Tweeting « Back to Story

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This was a mainly negative review of Alan Jacobs' book which I do not think did justice to the book or its main thrust. Alan Jacobs is largely defending reading against the scruple and vanity of reading to have read, rather reading as a deep encounter. He defends pleasure as an access into the readerly depths that a Great Books approach paradoxically can block by not giving due heed to our heart or eros connection with the books we read. He does not conflate pleasure with entertainment but on the contrary defends pleasure against Adler and Van Doren's dichotomy of reading for information and reading for entertainment. He notes that pleasure and joy are exiled in this division because they do not properly belong in either category. To class them under entertainment disgraces them. Jacobs, the biographer of C.S. Lewis reminds me of C.S. Lewis's advice about prayer when Lewis wrote that a Christian should come as he is, not as he thinks he ought to be to God. There is an access that this allows and a kind of guarding of the heart by encouraging a greater awareness of the heart. Similarly, Jacobs counsels that we own our interests and through them go into greater depths rather than trying to keep up a Stoic show.
I wager I “enjoyed” this review more than I'm going to “enjoy” The Pleasures of Reading. Excellent work, Mr. Eha.
"... a learned and sensitive guide like Jacobs."

Who says, “Read at Whim”? Who says, "We read what we want, when we want”?

There are guides, and there are guides. Jacobs seems no Beatrice. Can Jacobs' guidance steer us from Jacqueline Suzanne to Mark Twain? With "so many books, so little time", we do need guides who have gone before us and explored the territory. Oscar Wilde, in "De Profundis", wrote

"I believe I am to have enough to live on for about eighteen months at any rate, so that if I may not write beautiful books, I may at least read beautiful books; and what joy can be greater?"

A good guide can lead us away from the latest "potboiler" to one of those "beautiful books".

It's not hard to understand the decline of reading, given these days of 8-second MTV cuts and 140-character, highly abbreviated tweets. (Perhaps someone will translate (for example) "Huckleberry Finn" into Tweet. Or even Proust.)

Then there's Mortimer Adler, whose little list has served us well for about 60 years.
I especially enjoyed this insightful piece by Brian Patrick Eha. Observing Jacobs' call for open enjoyment of literature, he rightly observes that the author avoids perscribing a criteria for comparison. What I find most interesting is that a young colleague of mine, an avid J. K. Rowling devotee, has arrived at Jacobs' conclusion that "Tolkien is a greater writer than J.K. Rowling" quite on her own.
Great Article! Interesting that Jacobs, in his devotion to leveling the playing field and bring literature and simple, old-fashioned book readin' has decided to write a book in his own right. I understand his point about, at least initially, bringing all stories and books to the same level playing field. To build on one of the author's analogies, someone who sees "Maid in Manhattan" for the first time and reignites the love of film will more than likely find and come to their own conclusions about Woody Allen's "Manhattan" in their own time. However, if they are presented with the idea that if one only enjoys this work and it is considered base or inferior, the fear is they will retreat back to their Blackberrys and DSi's.
While I think I understand what Jacobs is going for in theory, the simple fact that he wrote a book on the matter insinuates he is marketing to a demographic more interested in rediscovering literature than those it seems the book was actually written for. In that sense, the critic makes an excellent point. Well done.