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