That Adler and Van Doren have these suspicions is indicated
by their choice of the word entertainment—a dismissive word in comparison to ones I have just used, pleasure and joy, and often prefaced by the adjective “mere.” Graham Greene wrote works of fiction that he felt were seriously literary, and called them “novels”; others, largely thrillers like Stamboul Train and Brighton Rock, he called “entertainments.” But “pleasure” and “joy” are richer words, with a greater range of connotations: there can be guilty pleasures, but abiding ones as well. Adler and Van Doren don’t want to get into these complications, preferring the simple distinction between entertainment, on the one trivial hand, and information and understanding, on the strong and noble other. But to divide the world of reading in this way is to leave yourself unable to account for pleasure, and likely to mistrust it when it comes.

So this is what I say to my petitioners: 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.”