Finish That Book! – The Atlantic
I was just complaining about this post on Twitter, so let me flesh out my complaints a bit. As you can see if you look to the left-hand column on this page, I wrote a book called The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
, and I wrote it because I think reading is delightful, and that we ought not be ashamed of reading for delight.
In that book I wrote, “For heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, or (shifting the metaphor slightly) some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some people fix their attention on the ‘calories burned’ readout — some assiduous and taxing exercise that allows you to look back on your conquest of Middlemarch with grim satisfaction. How depressing. This kind of thing is not reading at all, but what C. S. Lewis once called ‘social and ethical hygiene.’”
I think “social and ethical hygiene” exactly what Lapidos is advocating in this essay. People who stop reading books are “lazy.” Dropping a book partway through is “wrong.” Wrong! After a brief (and, I think, appropriate) appeal to pleasure, she gets down to the main argument, which is that sticking with a book you don’t like is good for you. It can, for instance, “build up [your] ability to endure intellectual anguish.” As if there aren’t enough sources of intellectual anguish that we have to endure, so that we have to seek them out in our spare time.
We need in our lives realms of pure play. Why can’t our recreational reading be just that? (In the same way, why not talk a walk because you enjoy looking at your surroundings, not because you’re trying to get to the 10,000-step goal your FitBit says you need to meet?) We should feel free to read what gives us delight — yes, even if it’s YA fiction — and to stop when we’re not delighted. After all, we can always come back to a book later if we want to.
My suggestion would be to resist every attempt to dictate to you what you should or should not read in your leisure time. Read at whim! Don’t let our culture, especially our recreational culture, become one where everything that is not compulsory is forbidden.