Mikics (English/Univ. of Houston) argues that you can’t truly enjoy literature unless you slow way down and read…well, the way he does.
Throughout the book—an odd combination of literary exegeses and self-help suggestions—Mikics sprinkles complaints about the digital age and its current manifestations (Facebook, Twitter et al.) and asserts that they destroy our attention spans (is the increase of ADD related, he wonders?) and keep us on the surface of experience. His solution? Reading old books very slowly with an open dictionary alongside. Virtually all the authors he examines are dead (two are alive but “retired”: Philip Roth and Alice Munro), so whiffs of antiquarianism waft up from most of the pages. Not that his arguments are unappealing. Of course we would all be better off if we read the classics and read them slowly; however, it just doesn’t seem that likely to happen. Mikics declares that he’s not advocating the “close reading” techniques described by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, but rather a more leisurely journey through significant works of literature—a journey which, he soundly argues, is enhanced by a knowledge of the author’s biography and the cultural and historical contexts of the work. He then offers rules for readers, devoting a chapter to each—e.g., Be Patient, Get a Sense of Style, Use the Dictionary, Be Suspicious, Find Another Book. For each rule, Mikics offers ways to apply it to specific works. He ends with chapters on how to read various genres—with more analyses of specific works ranging from The Republic to Paradise Lost to Great Expectations.
A learned and earnest but ultimately quixotic attempt to convince us that a stagecoach is better for us than a bullet train.