I'm trying hard with the Booker longlist reading this year I really am, and it is no reflection on the quality of the list, which after all I can't comment on until I have read in its entirety, but I was suddenly drowned by a huge wave of ennui at more reading to prescription.
Sometimes I love directed reading, sometimes not, and I can see that I may have shot myself in the foot here because there we are about to finish a shared year of reading War & Peace together and before that we conquered Ulysses. It could be argued all prescriptive enough reading processes in their own way.
But I've done a lot of that day-to-day directed reading as well recently, and most willingly before meeting and talking to the authors at Port Eliot Festival, but I was dipping into a book that had arrived from OUP, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs (who writes a blog Text Patterns here) and suddenly I found myself very comfortably esconced on Planet Jacobs with Alan's idea...
'....my commitment to one dominant, overarching, nearly definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim.'
There's a great deal more to Professor Jacob's arguments, this is an OUP book after all, and having decided that I absolutely did need to read at Whim that very minute I didn't really want to read this one cover to cover either (sorry Alan) though I will eventually. So what follows is is in no way a definitive representation of the arguments, more a sifted version that held relevance for me at that particular moment, ideas that gave me pause for thought.
I browsed Alan Jacobs's dissection of some of the books out there which go for the prescriptive angle, most of which I have on my shelves.
'...dreadful...violation of the sovereignty of Whim'
and I've always felt the same, love the pictures but the book has felt wrong from the start...not a single book by Penelope Fitzgerald in there. How to Read Like a Professor comes under much scrutiny too and Jacobs argues both the fors (the promise of expertise may be attractive to some) and the againsts (reading = drudgery).
For a marginalia-ist like me there is an interesting section about writing in books and with reference to library books. A heinous crime to many including me, a sort of looting of the future reader's mind in a way, which is why I always have to have my own copy of a book and which, once written in I never lend out... it would feel like lending out my diary. Alan Jacobs and I are kindred spirits, no good putting a question mark in the margin for me and Alan, the question and the thought needs to be written down, a chance to recapture what you were experiencing when you first read the passage, and from which your future self may benefit. If I do that it needs to be somewhere in the book itself.
The reader of the library book is 'not allowed' to write in the book but the fact that they do, far from being seen as loutish book behaviour could be seen as an indication of the
'admirably irrepressible and responsive readers who can't afford their own books.'
And for those who may be squinting to see what that card says, it came from Slightly Foxed some years ago and yes, you need to have due regard for your viscera if you stealeth a book from my library.
Balancing that process of marginalia for Alan Jacobs is the suggestion that this can all be overdone, the continuity of reading interrupted and to the detriment of the reader. Uninterrupted flow might be an essential aspect of the book, in Alan's words
'I was blaming the road for my own riding of the brakes.'
Some books may require a lot of commentary, others only a little and ..
'Lord help the person who annotates a Harry Potter book or the latest John Grisham. In books of that kind momentum is not to be squandered.'
There is what looks like a really interesting section on e reading and in particular the Kindle, and it's not all bad news, plus some commentary on the current fashion for sharing your progress with a book page by page online as if in a race, which just might be. However by now I am so overcome by Whim that I am done with the distraction of Alan Jacobs's book (a sentiment which I have a feeling Alan would understand and even applaud ) because I now want the pleasures of reading back.
The extreme reader, to coin a phrase, is a rare bird indeed. ("I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing," Lynne Sharon Schwartz writes. "Can I go back to my books now?") Such people are born, not made, I think; or mostly born and only a little made. They take care of themselves; they always do go back to their books.
Yes indeed, Whim was me so I settled down with a huge pile of books to pay attention to my Inner Whim and settled on three that I really did want to read now and I am right back in my reading groove with each of them.
Fortunately for me I was not overcome with paying attention to my Inner Whim before I had made a start on the Booker longlist with The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes, and the book already a victim of the pencil. However I can now see that reading this novel may just have contributed to my increased susceptibility to all this, because I'm not sure I'm going to read anything else on the list that will match up to it.
The truth is actually that I love it so much I don't want to risk finding something on the list I might like more.
Rubbish thinking isn't it.
I'm wondering what you may be reading now and why, and how's your Inner Reading Whim faring today??