I am no different than anyone else. There are certain kinds of books, as with people, that attract my attention more than others.  Book jacket designers are highly attuned to such subtle preferences and know how to get particular people to select from the shelf particular books that will bring them joy.  Certainly, it is not the words that first catch my attention, but the design of the words that slows my eye long enough to capture the meaning of the words on the spine.  In this case, jacket designer for Oxford University Press, Leah Lococo did a very excellent job - black spine with capital white letters in a typeface reminiscent of the age of the printing press.  And so I came to check out The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs and carried it with me on a weekend trip to New York.

Thankfully, it is not a cranky book condemning all technology that threatens the survival of the printed word.  Rather the opposite.  Alan Jacobs is not in the business of condemning much of anything at all except for people like Harold Bloom, author of How to Read and Why, which Jacobs renames What to Read and What to Think about It.  Jacobs is dead set against lists of books issued by authorities telling us what we need to read.  Instead he advises, "Read what gives you delight--at least most of the time--and do so without shame."  And as if that's not endearing enough, he entitles the lovely little section near the beginning of the book where he makes this point, "Whim."

Whim, often referred to as "frivolousness," was frowned upon in our household growing up, which is not to say that my parents do not laugh easily and don't have healthy senses of humor.  They do. Simply, there was a level of seriousness to be upheld.  We were to be serious students, serious citizens, serious musicians.  Or at least, that's my interpretation of how I was raised, which most likely, given the confounding nature of child rearing, is very different from the interpretation my parents have of how I was raised.

And so in me developed a seriousness that was responsible for getting me through college with respectable grades.  The danger was, my overblown sense of the seriousness of my undertakings (augmented by the seriousness of several serious boyfriends) risked suffocating my last vestiges of whimsy.

Fortunately, like so many things, I can blame my husband, a Whimsical man who, at every turn, challenges our most sacred assumptions about seriousness.

"It helps us to make a vital distinction between what I shall call whim and Whim.  In its lower-case version, whim is thoughtless, directionless preference that almost invariably leads to boredom or frustration or both. But Whim is something very different: it can guide us because it is based in self-knowledge."  Alan Jacobs

Of course, we would all like to believe that we have just the right amount of the right kind of Whim. So indulge me long enough to make the case, for my parents' sake, who have made no mention of this blog, perhaps out of embarrassment, perhaps out of indifference, that this recent distraction is not the lower case whim they worry leads to a life of frivolousness, but rather capital Whimsy, the very kind that Alan Jacobs, serious scholar, professor, biographer assures us is the kind of Whimsy that is our best guide through the world of the written word.


  1. I have never had the pleasure of meeting your parents, but Knowing you, i'm certain that it's Whim.