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

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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)
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Sasquatch Books (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570616701
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570616709
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 0.6 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David L. Ulin is the author of "Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles"; "Labyrinth"; "The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time"; and "The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason and Faith," which was selected as a best book of 2004 by the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. His novel "Ear to the Ground," written with Paul Kolsby, will be published in 2016.

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

A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, he is book critic, and former book editor, of the Los Angeles Times.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 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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11 of 13 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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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on December 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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