How to Read for Pleasure

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read at whim

“Read at whim!”

This is the cry of Dr. Alan Jacobs in his recent book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Reading at whim is his response to our culture which loves to ask what to read. Many seek recommendations from best-seller, top 10, and summer reading lists, but “In many cases,” Jacobs suggests, “these requests have little to do with reading anything, but rather with having read . . . (Jacobs, 2011, p. 14).” The question then becomes, what brings pleasure? Reading, or having read?

While reading for reasons other than the mere whim of personal pleasure can surely be beneficial (e.g. schoolwork), non-whimsical reading can often become problematic and lead to temptation. I believe this is what C. S. Lewis was getting at in one section of The Screwtape Letters. In this section, the demon named Screwtape, chastises his nephew and junior temptor, Wormword, for his errors:

“And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it an not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends . . . The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books.”

—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Convicted? Me too. I often slip into reading for the praise of other folks or to “make clever remarks.” Instead, we ought to read because we are interested in the topic or because we want to enjoy an evening in a distant and mysterious land. We ought to read at a whim.

When we read for these purposes—to delight in the creativity that reflects God’s creativity and the truths that reflect the Truth—then reading has the potential to become a true pleasure.

So lets infuriate our tempters and read at a whim!

—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (HarperCollins 2001 ed.), p. 66
—Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 14, 15
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