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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GOOD WRITING; GOOD NARRATIVE; LIFE-AFFIRMING
For readers who care about where we're all going in this mad-media world of Internet highways and smart technology, this book is a necessary pit stop for refueling and refreshment.

Only 151 pages long, this totally chapterless work can be read in a sitting of three hours (as if it were one single, long paragraph), and it will not disappoint. The book is...
Published on November 27, 2010 by G. Charles Steiner

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Thesis, Meandering Argument
Ulin is a well known author who has edited several books on Los Angeles, particularly writings about the city, and has for many years been a book critic for the LA Times. He is a professional reviewer and writer who depends upon readers for his livelihood., and lately that readership is hard to find and engage. One need look no further than the pathetic decrease in size...
Published on February 27, 2012 by las cosas


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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GOOD WRITING; GOOD NARRATIVE; LIFE-AFFIRMING, November 27, 2010
For readers who care about where we're all going in this mad-media world of Internet highways and smart technology, this book is a necessary pit stop for refueling and refreshment.

Only 151 pages long, this totally chapterless work can be read in a sitting of three hours (as if it were one single, long paragraph), and it will not disappoint. The book is subtitled: Why Books Matter In a Distracted Time. One of the main and positive features of this work for me was the fact that the author, already a well-known critic for the "Los Angeles Times," confesses to a feeling lately (say, over the last two years) of being unable to concentrate and wonders, if it's not Alzheimer's or incipient old age, just what is happening to his brain. I completely identified with that situation and concern even though I, unlike the author, do not own a Blackberry or a Kindle. I am, just as the author describes himself-- as well as of nearly everyone today -- averse to tuning out the "buzz" that's on the Internet and in the media and am on the computer at work as well as at home.

David Ulin doesn't like to categorize books by way of fiction or non-fiction, personal or objective. He simply aims for and enjoys what is simply called "good writing." In this manner, the tale he unfolds here is both factual, literary, historical as well as personal, some vignettes touchingly involving his son, Noah. Suffice it to say Mr. Ulin has some trenchant observations to make not only about "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald but about Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" as well -- not to overlook the many writers he pulls up from the stream of words he so deftly pursues such that any reader will feel tempted to follow-up on those authors and works that are completely new to her or him.

Having covered a lot of ground that feels like "everything" that can be said about technology versus the book -- but actually isn't -- the author asserts that what reading good writing does for the reader -- unlike any other kind of technology -- is disconnect the reader from the harried noisy world of present storms and present crises and trivia and immerse her or him in a world transcending present time with others from previous ages, a world that facilitates empathy, blurring the boundaries between yourself and another, while allowing one's thoughts to gather some gravitas in the silence that follows from long bouts of concentration on the written word. He insists we need silence more than ever now. It's a kind of Wordsworthian plaint -- the world is too much with us. But he reminds us there's a solution: read good writing in the silence whenever you can.

One of the roads not undertaken in this multi-streamed river of a book full of consideration about the pros and cons of the traditional book versus electronic technology was audio book technology or the Read-to-Me feature available in many e-books -- and the cultural impact of a renewed orality about the printed word. Mr. Ulin evokes ideas about a "conversation that began in Mesopotamia ten thousand years ago," but seems to have forgotten Homer's oral impact in the process, concentrating on print and writing instead. While he tries to pluck the harp optimistically for the positive contributions of electronic media, Mr. Ulin, understandably in my opinion, argues finally to keep the art of reading books alive. I still want to know would his argument finally remain with books if he had considered the electronic orality of texts -- or paid any attention to them.

All in all, this was definitely a good read and a good piece of writing. It contains, as I've said, mentionings of writers and books I'm going to enjoy exploring further. I was so glad to find Mr. Ulin mention the writer Vardis Fisher, even if it was through a quotation by Frank Connor. As Mr. Ulin knows, good books have good writing and artfully put the reader in a "flow state" or trance from which she or he makes a self, and Vardis Fisher was just one of those writers for me. Mr. Ullin has, among others, Alexander Trocchi. Who? Read "The Lost Art of Reading" or read Trocchi's "Cain's Book." The point is -- read, in silence, good writing.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bookworms Unite!, November 28, 2010
David Ulin expands an essay he had written on the status of reading in our world. He is correct, in that the electronic world is demanding. We tend to answer email and clear them away, e mails and messages of all sorts grow at an exponential rate. He also admits that literature does not have the influence it once did. So he muses on the place of reading and books today. Those of us that are unrepentant readers can identify with his descriptions of rooms of books, books as an escape, carrying them everywhere to read during waiting times.

He defines in many ways the purpose of books, the reading of them. There are other thoughts in here, musings on the 2008 elections, his son's assignment to read The Great Gatsby..
His thoughts on blogs, the internet, electronic comments and cyberspace and the change in books- e-books and I pods are included. He points out that kindle is private, no one can share the book unless you loan out your apparatus and not even you can stand in front of your book collection and peruse your titles. The new is not condemned, it just is not embraced wholeheartedly.

So join the revolution of the written page. This little book will make a great gift or a recollection to yourself of what reading is in this world. This book is a love poem to reading, books and the readers among us.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Thesis, Meandering Argument, February 27, 2012
By 
las cosas (Ajijic-San Francisco) - See all my reviews
Ulin is a well known author who has edited several books on Los Angeles, particularly writings about the city, and has for many years been a book critic for the LA Times. He is a professional reviewer and writer who depends upon readers for his livelihood., and lately that readership is hard to find and engage. One need look no further than the pathetic decrease in size and importance of the book review department at the LA Times during the period Mr. Ulin has worked at the paper (which is certainly not his fault). It is thus somewhat courageous for the author to admit that he sympathizes with the distractions faced by people in our culture, including himself and his son. The rapid pace of internet provided information is addictive, and particularly for his son's generation, seems the norm. Why bother reading a book?

What purpose does The Great Gatsby and other works of literature serve in this warp speed world in which we live? Any reader of today will find that an interesting premise, particularly since it seems less and less people are interested in novels. We want an articulate advocate to explain the importance of literature, the reading equivalent of a slow food advocate. From reading various reviews of this book, many people think this book accomplishes the task. I don't.

The storyline that serves as the background for the inquiry is his son's disinterest in reading, and in particular his grumbling about the assignment to read The Great Gatsby. In order to help his son he decides to reread the book, and by the end of the book has done this, returning to his son with his insights and passions to share. But his son's problem from the beginning wasn't reading the book, it was the requirement that he interrupt his reading to annotate the book using certain pre-set criteria dictated by the teacher. This is not a problem of distraction, this is the age old problem of high school English teachers ruining the joy of reading by intellectualizing it to death. And when the author wants to share his passion for Gatsby, his son isn't interested. He doesn't need the help, he's got it figured out. That a high school student feels the goal of reading literature is to "figure it out" is at least as sad as the unwillingness of people to slow down sufficiently to read a book.

I also found his argument for reading too meandering, too filled with personal stories. One problem with the internet is that it is too easy to wander off subject, to flit on the surface of endless topics. It is thus ironic that this book suffers from the same problem. A discussion of authors important to Ulin leads to his discussion of Alexander Trocchi and the book then veers off to a rambling remembrance of a trip to London and Trocchi's book store. This and other personal remembrances add nothing to the argument of this book, and as with internet searches, the surface enjoyment of the excursion distracts from the impact of what was originally being researched. A book arguing the importance of reading as a commitment of time undisturbed by distractions isn't helped by tons of distracting anecdotes.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Succinct but rich, February 28, 2011
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Here's a thoughtful, sometimes troubling essay about the pleasures of traditional reading, which seems to be in danger of being lost. Oh, there are still some who read actual books; but more & more, many prefer their reading material delivered digitally. And many ask, "Well, what's the difference? People are still reading, aren't they?"

David Ulin, while not entirely dismissing the digital out of hand, makes a very strong case that there is indeed a difference. Some of what he offers is factual, some of it anecdotal; but above all else, it's deeply personal, as he explains why reading in depth matters so much to him. And by extension, why it should matter equally as much to the rest of us.

What he's getting at here, it seems to me, is the notion of reading as a sort of sacred space, set apart from the demands & distractions of the everyday world. It's a space that's intensely private, a place of engagement between the reader & the written, where the individual mind (and perhaps soul) is shaped by the encounter with words, images & ideas. The book is presented as a separate world of its own, a construct made out of the writer's own life experience, education & psyche, into which the reader enters & is changed ... presumably for the better.

Here's where the doubts about the digital come in, as we consider just how many distractions are available to the online or plugged-in reader. We tell ourselves that we can multitask without any loss of focus or understanding -- we may even tell ourselves that we get more out of reading that way -- but the evidence for that seems to be lacking. A place apart from the everyday world is getting harder to find as the digital invades everything -- often quite willingly invited in, let's be honest! Yet it's in that place apart that we can truly become individuals, or at least the sort of people we once defined as civilized & reasonably whole human beings.

The true danger of the digital lies in its very ease & ubiquity, I would think. With everything so readily available, with the capacity to continuously leap from one thing to another in a second, anything of depth must necessarily be flattened out, presented as being of equal worth (or non-worth) as the most trivial factoid. It's almost the Gresham's Law of Reading: bad (or empty) content drives out good.

Is this a fair assessment, though? My own feeling is that it's all too accurate. Whether or not you agree, Ulin will make you think about what you read & how you read it. At the very least, you won't take reading for granted after you finish the last page of this worthy little book. Most highly recommended!
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's time to hang up your iPod and read, December 7, 2010
By 
Theodore A. Rushton (PHOENIX, Arizona United States) - See all my reviews
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A bumper sticker neatly answers the premise of this book: Hang Up and Drive

So, 'Hang Up and Read'. There's no reason to be plugged into everything with every gadget at every moment to every person for every reason for ever and ever. So, hang up your electronics and stare at the clouds until a new idea is born. Start with a fact from Pew Research which reports "84 percent of text-messaging adults say they send and receive texts 'just to say Hello'".

Okay. If you're reading a convention book and feel the need to say "Hello" to everyone who comes near, you'll get very little out of reading or social relationships. In other words, we get the most out of what we decide is most important. When driving, pay attention to "STOP" and other signs; at the end of a trip, can you recall any semblance of signs seen along the way?

Likewise with reading. The difference between reading and social relations was nicely summed up by a Inuit man many years ago. After seeing how visitors made marks on paper and later recited precisely what was said, he concluded witing meant, "Words stay put."

It's the essence of printing newspapers and books. "Words stay put" The idea goes back at least 8,000 years to Sumerians who put marks on clay balls to identify the contents; by looking at such marks, "readers" obtained precise information.

How would Ulin have reacted to the switch from clay tablets to papyrus scrolls to bound books? In other words, technology changes but content remains vital. The medium is not the message, as McLuhan said; the medium tickles our attention, the message is what we choose to remember.

Television glitters, but is mostly a wasteland. Good words well written hold our attention whether said on television or printed on ground up trees. To cite a lack of intellectual content in text messaging is equivalent to seeking "great literature" in Harlequin romances.

A Harlequin will likely sell 100 times as many copies as this book; the first page of this book will likely have 100 times the intellectual impact of a Harlequin. Both have their place. If only Harlequins existed, books would hardly matter. Harlequin began as a weekend newspaper insert and evolved into books, because books have more impact than weekend newspapers.

Likewise, the fact thoughtful books are published, bought, read and discussed shows the art of reading is still alive and well.

'Common Sense' by Tom Paine sold 150,000 copies in a society of four million; yet, it gave the intellectual reasoning behind the war for independence. Today, 600,000 titles are published in English every year; bit by bit, they form the society we now know and enjoy.

Why? Because those books are read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, not compelling, February 3, 2013
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Interesting - a bit "all over the place" - has some good quotes from others about reading. But having been drawn in by the title, I was a bit disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, November 30, 2012
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What is information overload doing to us? That is the question the author asks in this short little book. The point I found most interesting was the one in which he considers how such things as Facebook have changed us in several ways. First, while we assume that it helps keep us connected, it actually allows us to become more isolated than ever before since there is no need to go out and connect with people face to face. The second is that modern technology has eliminated our need to remember anything. Not phone numbers, not stories, not anything. We have the capability to use some sort of technology to do the remembering for us. This, he says, affects us in ways we may not yet even realize.

How does this relate to reading? Ulin says that the act of reading an actual book (paper and ink) requires us to sit and focus and block out distractions, something many of us (adults and children) are finding it more and more difficult to do any more. While he admits that reading on an iPad or other electronic device offers us the possibility of expanding our reading experience by having instant access to a dictionary for unknown words or the Internet to see photos and videos of the places in the book, the very act of jumping from story to dictionary to Internet to email to Facebook, etc., changes the way we read and the way we think.

Ironically, the main drawback I found in this book was that he jumps around quite a bit throughout. Reading it was much like just listening to a conversation you might have with him. I think I will appreciate it more when I read it again, for it is worth a second read. I, too, am one who lost myself in books growing up. Actually, I still do, when I'm not distracted by so many other things.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Important Message, January 15, 2012
By 
Dog Lover (Literary Land) - See all my reviews
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IMO, this is a very important book. To emphasize that point, I'll just say that when I started drafting my review, I found that that review, itself, would end up being as long as this small published essay. I'll spare you my superlative thoughts and just encourage you to read "The Lost Art of Reading" for yourself.

The only reason I didn't award 5 stars was because, ironically, the first 100 pages or so demonstrated a writing style that annoyed me even while I appreciated and approved the message Mr. Ulin was sending. The last 50 pages or so, though, showed the style to even out somewhat. The ending was simply beautiful. I'll be thinking about this topic and Mr. Ulin's thoughts on it for months to come, I'm certain.

My personal experiences with distraction and having to relearn "how to read" after being part of the computer industry for 30 years is anecdotal evidence to support his positions. Those positions, btw, are very balanced - he recognizes that society is in a transition state and thus has it ever been. This current transition may be caused by technology but what we do with it and how we use it is, as always, up to us. One of the numerous quotes I copied was "If we frame every situation in terms of right and wrong, we never have to wrestle with complexity." My own paraphrase with which Ulin may or may not agree is that we tend to bow to information overload and allow ourselves to equate that to learning because we are, at heart, lazy. Yes - we feel that if we pause for a nano second to immerse ourselves in deep thought that can result from contemplative reading, then we will automatically be left behind. Scrambling is the order of the day. Parts of our minds, though, simply waste away from disuse if we follow the scramble to the extremes. Deep reading - again, my word - is harder for me than it once was. My pace has altered. I'm having to reteach myself the "how" of reading anything of substance. My career compelled me to a "nut it out" approach to reading. That habit, the same as I can no longer run a 10K without training (again) first, has to be broken by a similar exercise in training my mind.

Deep contemplative reading allows us to mentally process all (or, at least a lot) of that information that bombards us. I believe that it is not only worth the time and effort to retrain my mind, I believe it absolutely necessary to avoid becoming a data-filled reservoir of non-critical thinking.

Sheesh - looks as if I'm about to write that long essay after all. I'll just close with a few concerns: 1) Mr. Ulin is pretty specific in his political opinions. He uses some political references to make his points about non-critical thinking and reaction vs thought. These are very good examples and I believe he uses them well. My concern is that people who don't agree with those political views will, which is exactly the point he is making with the examples, overlook what he is saying because his politics may not be acceptable. Sad. Really sad that I have that concern but, there it is. 2) He also is a little more a fan of the iPod and Apple than I am. Hey! I can overlook that to get the points he is making. (He is in factual error about a couple of things where eReader access to titles is concerned though.) 3) Ulin never makes the point that I feel is important to some degree: "what" we read is important as well as "how" we read. He never cites any distinction about WHAT is being "deeply read." I could see where it doesn't really matter when the reader is in "training", so to speak. However for the result to be, as Ulin says, "... the blurring of the boundaries that divide us, that keep us separate and apart" can depend on the content of the read. It takes some mighty fine writing for those boundaries to blur for me. As Mr. Ulin is an LA Times book critic and teaches at UC , I suspect he just takes for granted that we will read "the good stuff" deeply.

Good essay. People need to "deeply read" this!

DL
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essay to read in an evening, reread after that..., August 26, 2011
This essay delivers in form what it addresses in terms of concept: what it means, and even feels like, to read deeply, especially in today's distracted society, when our brains are literally changing due to our use of technology. Ulin does such a fantastic job of weaving between personal scenes with his 15-year-old, reluctant-reader son and quotes from other authors about everything from literature to technology to concepts of time and even the Sabbath, that it's hard when you're finished to track his argument in your mind. But a clear argument and premature conclusion are the disposable stuff of TV news. This essay is a developing thought (in the spirit of that original essayist, Montaigne) -- no polemic -- just an engaging conversation about things that matter deeply, a world that is still evolving, choices we all make, sacrifices and pleasures. Reading Ulin reminded me of what I treasure about reading: the opportunity to spend focused, silent time in the presence of an intelligent mind.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A nice look at the reading decline, June 26, 2014
Though this is a short book, there were parts that seemed to drag on. However, it was a nice, insightful read, especially for people like me who love to read books about books.
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