How I Learned That It’s Okay (Really) to Just Read for Fun

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“Read what gives you delight – at least most of the time – and do so without shame. And even if you are the 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. It would be too much. Great books are great in part because of what they ask of their readers: they are not readily encountered, easily assessed. The poet W.H. Auden once wrote, ‘When one thinks of the attention that a great poem demands, there is something frivolous about the notion of spending every day with one.'” (23)

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Reading the above, I felt chastened, and here’s why.

I often take pride in my appreciation of the “Great Books” of Western civilization, or at least in my willingness to spend time with them, to take up their noble challenge. The other side of this virtue, however, is a disdain for lighter fare such as popular bestsellers and fiction works that offer little intellectual challenge, which I’ve often expressed with something of a self-righteous, intellectual smugness that can be off putting to some people. Friends, if you’ve ever felt that I’ve looked down on your reading habits and tastes, I apologize.

In reading the above, from the short and delightful The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distractions by Alan Jacobs, an English professor whose books I enjoy and admire, a veil of snobbery was pulled and I saw that truly, reading is a delightful activity, and so we should go to it to find delight – what this looks like can vary significantly from person to person. This delight shouldn’t be spoiled by those – like me – who pontificate on the importance of reading almost exclusively things that are “worth reading,” like the Great Books of Western civilization. So while I still believe that time spent tackling the challenge that is Plato’s “Republic” is time well spent, I have to agree with Jacobs that reading such a book every day would just be too much. I have to admit that more pleasing, more joyous, more…right, is the picture of a reader gladly making time to read that which transports her to another world and offers sheer delight. If what she’s reading is the latest, blockbuster entry in the franchise featuring a boy wizard, so what?

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