February 9th, 2010
The difference between reading for pleasure and garden-variety academic reading is the difference between visiting the paintings you love in a museum and spending time with paintings you don’t immediately respond to because you want to understand what kind of paintings they really are, and how they work.
The difference between reading for pleasure and reading for intensive academic research is the difference between buying a beautiful piece of art for your home and meticulously going through a giant patch of dirt divided into little squares by lines of string and painstakingly unearthing broken bits of pottery. If you’re a researcher, you don’t dig up a shard of a cooking pot and make a face because it’s jagged on one side or it doesn’t really appeal to your sensibilities. You brush it off with a special brush and bag it up with custom-made padding and carefully tag the bag and thank your archeological saints that you found it at all because what are the odds of that, and then you use it to reconstruct a piece of a lost world.
All these ways of reading are useful and good. But it’s important to know which you’re trying to do, lest you wander haplessly into a dig and be unexpectedly set upon by sweaty archeologists with mud on their trousers and a deranged gleam in their eyes.