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The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time Hardcover – October 12, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Sasquatch Books; 1ST edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570616701
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570616709
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.6 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Expanding on a 2009 essay, Ulin, former book review editor of the Los Angeles Times, addresses the act of reading and its place in our information overloaded age. Ulin relies mainly on his own experiences as a loyal reader--specifically a recent attempt to reread The Great Gatsby alongside his son Noah's high school English class--which goes devastatingly wrong ("You'd fail if you were in my class," Noah pronounces). Ulin uses this incident to frame the larger narrative, fluently addressing the art and craft of literature, the reader's participation, the writer and the writing--and the act of rereading. He addresses in greater depth distractions from reading, specifically the ever-present seductions of technology, and the experience of reading on a screen. Moving toward an optimistic note, Ulin argues that technology can enlarge us, citing Rick Moody and Jennifer Egan as writers who embrace this ever-changing landscape. Ulin's short book not only puts forth a strong and passionate case for reading but also compiles a reading list of writers and critics (e.g., Anne Fadiman, Joan Didion, David Shields) who have influenced Ulin and who are well worth reading. (Nov.) (c)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As the media focus on the business of e-books, ardent readers ponder the effects electronic devices are having on what and how we read and the viability of literary culture. Ulin, book critic at the Los Angeles Times, confesses to his own changed reading habits as he partakes of “the instant gratifications of the information stream” in this thoughtful, candid, and gratifyingly balanced inquiry. He writes with surpassing eloquence and insight about what books have meant to him since childhood, his son’s reading of The Great Gatsby and his own rereading of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, and how books “serve as a collective soul, a memory bank, bigger than mere commerce.” Quoting Thomas Paine, Kerouac, Vonnegut, and Didion, Ulin is wisely open-minded in his grappling with the growing complexity and attendant ambiguity of our changing approaches to writing and reading, creating a genuinely reflective and resonant chapter in the story of the book. And his closing vision of a “quiet revolution” in which reading “is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction” is most inspiriting. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

David L. Ulin is book critic, and former book editor, of the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of "The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time," "Labyrinth," and "The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason and Faith," selected as a best book of 2004 by the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle.

He is also the editor of three anthologies: "Another City: Writing from Los Angeles," "Cape Cod Noir," and the Library of America's "Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology," which won a 2002 California Book Award. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Black Clock, Columbia Journalism Review, and on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

He was awarded a 2010 Southern California Independent Booksellers Association/Glenn Goldman Book Award for his work on "Los Angeles: Portrait of a City."

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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I've read this book twice since being in his class.
Kate Abbott
In this manner, the tale he unfolds here is both factual, literary, historical as well as personal, some vignettes touchingly involving his son, Noah.
G. Charles Steiner
Whether or not you agree, Ulin will make you think about what you read & how you read it.
William Timothy Lukeman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By G. Charles Steiner TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 100 REVIEWER on November 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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 By las cosas on February 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By William Timothy Lukeman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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!
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