Unheard Melodies

Why do people want to read faster? Not least because life is short: “So many books, so little time,” as the saying goes. We don’t want to miss something special, especially if we miss it because we simply run out of years. This is understandable, and when such thoughts pass through my mind I can feel a brief rush of panic. But— to anticipate a point to be treated later— it’s rather odd that I tend not to feel the same panic at the thought of not having time to reread books that I already love, even though I know that such rereading will surely be pleasurable. The possible pleasure of an unread book weighs more heavily on me than the sure pleasure of one I already know. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter.”

Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, pg. 70-71

Some of us Most of us need to read more than we do. Yet Jacobs warns us with the distinction between reading for the pleasure of it and reading merely to have read. Those massive lists of BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE can actually stifle our appreciation for good books. We’re too busy trying to get to the next volume.

“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written,” wrote Thoreau, and the statement is perfect because it lets you skim the chaff. (Be warned, ye Twitter users, taking this dictum to heart will inoculate you against that beloved platform of controversy and snark.)

So go a little slower. My parents would occasionally remind me: “slow down, and chew your food— it isn’t going anywhere!”

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