D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything And Read)

Today is the 103rd anniversary of Beverly Cleary’s birth, and drawing inspiration from Ramona Quimby some years ago, a group of people started commemorating her birth with a focus on families reading together. Which is just a cool idea. There’s a pretty good website with details and activities here.

I don’t really know if I can get my family to come together and read as a family anymore — but I can at least encourage them all to do it on their own. But for those of you who have younger kids (or more compliant teenagers), take a half-hour today and read together.

If you’re like me, or single, or just not into spending time with your family — it’s still a decent way to spend 30 minutes.

Just Drop Everything And Read

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The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of DistractionThe Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

by Alan Jacobs

Hardcover, 150 pg.
Oxford University Press, USA, 2011

Read: December 21 – 25, 2015

A while back my teenage son drifted into the room where I was reading, tilting his head to catch the title of the book in my hands. It was that venerable classic How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren. “Oh man, he said, “I had to read that in school last year. Maybe I learned something about how to read a book, but after that I never wanted to read a book again.”

Oh, I hear ya, brother! I endured Adler/van Doren for a graduate-level course and thought it was one of the most pointless books I’d ever read. Now, Jacobs finds more profit in the tome than I do, but he’s clearly not a fan.

The book starts with a call to read what you want, reading based on whim, rather than thinking of it as a self-improvement program (which it is, in a way, but it doesn’t have to be followed like one). In fact, Alden, Harold Bloom, etc. turn

reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens. . . That sort of thing is not reading at all, but what C. S. Lewis once called “social and ethical hygiene.”

Instead, Jacobs calls for people to:

Read what gives you delight–at least most of the time–and so without shame. And even if you are that rare sort of person who is delighted chiefly by what some people call Great Books, don’t make them your steady intellectual diet, any more than you would eat at the most elegant of restaurants every day.

Jacobs is a Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University, and author of many books and articles on books, reading, and authors. He’s one of those guys I’ve seen the name of everywhere, and associated with insight, but if push came to shove, I couldn’t tell you why. But now he’s the professor I wish I had (nothing against most of the early ’90s English department at the University of Idaho, most).

Reading on a whim doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself, read above your comfort level, or to better yourself — but you do it because it interests you, because you want to (and when you want to), rather than subjecting yourself to someone’s checklist.

After that, Jacobs moves into trying to understand how reading works, how it captures so many imaginations — and sure, he cites some studies that explain how we take black marks on paper and make them ideas in our head, at some point even the professionals have to stop and say, “it just works.” (but Jacob puts it better).

We also get discussion about the “iron-clad Law of Diminishing Returns” regarding rereading too soon (and yet, why we should reread). An interesting defense of/encouragement of fanfic. I was surprised, quite surprised, at his advocacy for e-Readers — I fully expected him to be solidly Dead Tree Edition Only, whoops — I don’t use my Kindle the way he does, but I can see where it’d work for him (or Nook, either). Why a lot of the doomsayers about the state of reading/publishing are wrong.

But mostly this is advice and guidance for the reader trying to recapture the same joy that he had before (or never had), encouragement for the active reader to keep at it, the person who still can’t get poetry, etc., etc.

I can’t resist another quotation. Towards the end of the book, he talks about the joy of finding a book by Serendipity:

serendipity is the near relation of Whim; each stands against the Plan.

Plan once appealed to me, but I have grown to be a natural worshiper of Serendipity and Whim; I can try to serve other gods, but my heart is never in it. I truly think I would rather read an indifferent book on a lark than a fine one according to schedule and plan.

Charmingly written, full of allusions (that most of us can get even without reading the works), witticisms and research — a book to entertain and edify. This one really speaks to me as a reader — it’s practically a mission statement for this blog. I expect I’ll come back to this one soon (maybe even annually). Still, for this time, I’m rating it 4-Stars, though I expect it’s a 5-Star book. I think it’s because I read it in 2-5 page spurts (one of those weeks, y’know?) after I got to page 70. Which doesn’t do the thing any favors. Towards the end of the book, Jacobs says:

All books want our attention, but not all of them want the same kind of attention.

I didn’t give this the right kind, and I’ll regret that for awhile.

If you like this blog, you’ll dig this book.

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Big Thanks to Aman Mittal for pointing me to this book — I haven’t read his take on it in a couple of months, so I don’t know how much we agree, but I know his post made me look for the book.

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4 Stars

Random Ruminations: Richard Russo and Looking Ahead to 2014

I’m about at the halfway point in Richard Russo’s The Bridge of Sighs and have just about decided that if I were to find myself in a Master’s program in Literature, I could very easily be content studying the minutiae of his work. I’m sure I could find enough for a few theses at least. Of course, I have no incentive to do more than come up with vague notions and theories, so I’ll have to trust that somewhere out there is an academic with a stronger drive than I and hope I run across their writing.

Besides, if I actually had the chance to do that kind of reading, researching and writing, I’d end up going with Rex Stout, Robert B. Parker or Jim Butcher.

When I finish this book, I’ll be just three books short of most of my goals for the year (10 short of the total I’d hoped to hit — still might make that, but it’s looking grim). I’ll have read all of Russo’s novels at least once; I’m one short of Hemingway’s novels (and a couple of his posthumous works, which I typically don’t do); and 1 to go in both the Stephanie Plum and Kinsey Millhone series to get up to this year’s release (I did that with Jack Reacher this week, and a couple weeks ago totally caught up on the Andy Carpenter books). I’m not sure that actually made sense — hopefully my year-end 2013 post will be clearer.

I’m pretty clueless about what I hope to accomplish in 2014 — get caught up on the Temeraire novels (an unfulfilled 2013 goal), read the rest of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith and Longmire books. But nothing of a more serious vein. Need to get to work on that — and, as always, I’m open to suggestions.

Which, by the way, is a long way of saying I’m not going to get a rant, rave, or review up today — Russo’s sapping all my attention and energy for the moment, so I could only jot down these few random thoughts.

Have a good Friday, and — always, always — thanks for reading.