Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reading for pleasure

From Patton Dodd's interview with Alan Jacobs about his The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction:
What's wrong with the idea of a category of books that are "guilty pleasures"?

Mainly the "guilty" part, because the guilt arises from the (often unspoken and even unformulated) sense that we ought to be reading Great Books all the time. But that would be like eating a seven-course French meal every day. Of all the passages I quote in my book, perhaps my favorite one is this, from W.H. Auden: "When one thinks of the attention that a great poem demands, there is something frivolous about the notion of spending every day with one. Masterpieces should be kept for High Holidays of the Spirit."

This book forced me to think about the role that vanity has played in my own reading life. I adore the crime novelist Dennis Lehane, for example, and while I don't feel guilty while reading him—I love his hard-boiled language and his sharp sense of moral outrage—I have felt embarrassed to celebrate him to my readerly friends. How can a reading life guided by whim help me overcome such vanity (and silliness)?

The Auden quote above is key. Also something C.S. Lewis once said: "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." When we're young our reading—like our choices of clothing and music—tends to be a matter of signaling who we are to the world. And that's not altogether a bad thing, or not always. But at some point we need to become mature enough, and perhaps confident enough in the good will and affection of our friends, to say, "Look, this is among the things I like to read." And then, you know, it's fun to try to get people to share in our enthusiasms, isn't it? .... [more]
Reading Is Fundamental -- and Fun!