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The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in…

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time

by David L. Ulin

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An interesting essay on reading in our current times (circa 2010/2011; still mostly relevant today in 2017). Part essay on WHY we should still be reading, part lament on why we are NOT reading as much as we should be, and part rebuke at our own distractedness (apparently thats not a word and the auto-correct on Firefox is saying I should use 'disconnectedness' instead; which also seems apt) due to the internet, smart phones, apps, 24/7 news cycle, information overload, etc. That all of this takes us away from the actual ACT of reading, which is to simply sit somewhere, and stare, and read, and internalize (as Vonnegut would say - ) - 26 letters, and 10 different numbers and a handful of punctuation marks all in black ink on a white piece of dead tree.... and to just BE as we do this. The connection to a past author, to a living author, to someone, writing and us reading this however long after they've written it and engaging mentally with it and through that - with them. That's something we're losing now, something the newer and younger generations are skipping and losing out on. Something that staring at laptops and smart phones can't replace. It's a form of meditation that we as a culture are sadly losing. ( )
  BenKline | Nov 3, 2017 |
This book was a random impulse selection at the library. I know, I've been trying not to check out anything but graphic novels as I already have too much to read at home, but this tiny volume was hardly intimidating, and it felt familiar, as if I'd read about it somewhere and intended to read it, so home with me it went.

It's clear that this book is deeply personal to the author. Framed around an interaction with his son, repeatedly referencing books that were clearly touchstones in his life (many of which I'd never heard of before), his subject matter is still somehow universal and easily relatable -- at least to devoted readers like myself. Well, at least, I guess, to myself. Some conversations with other devoted readers sparked by the reading of this book made it clear that not all felt the same. I guess I should feel lucky that I found myself on such a similar wavelength to the author.

The section of the book I found most interesting was when Ulin was writing about the problem of reading -- of fully immersing oneself in a book -- in this distracted age of Facebook and texting and instant communication. As I read, I was deeply struck by the contrast of my experience reading this book with reading The President just a few short weeks ago. After such a long period of mostly reading books in short bursts -- two to three pages at a time, while the majority of my reading was in shorter form -- magazines, internet articles, Facebook statuses... By the time I had that entire afternoon to devote to The President, I'd fallen entirely out of the habit of sustained, immersive reading. And that frustrating experience closely mirrored Ulin's descriptions in this section. But in the following weeks, I'd spent so much more time reading books -- I must have retrained my brain, because that afternoon in the park when I read most of this book, it was suddenly obvious how much easier it was to just fall into a book. It seemed a testament to the elasticity of the brain and of experience. And a hopeful sign that this empathic experience that is at the heart of reading novels, biographies, essays, need not be completely lost to this digital age. It just takes a little practice. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
An extended essay on the importance of reading. While I endorse his broad position, I don't believe he adequately confronts the impact of format (print vs. electronic) on reading comprehension -- in fact, he describes himself as a format agnostic. But that position is increasingly difficult to maintain: reading on screen is a qualitatively different experience than reading in print, as his own descriptions demonstrate.

Stylistically, I found his repeated use of parentheticals repeating major points a tad distracting, and even a bit sophomoric. ( )
  dono421846 | May 18, 2014 |
Excellent, thought-provoking, and interesting. The author has much to say in this slim volume (really just an essay). Thoughts on reading and literature in our changing environment. Observations about ebooks and the internet. A worthwhile read. ( )
  bibliostuff | Mar 20, 2014 |
The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin was originally published as an essay in The Los Angeles Times. It is offered up as an examination of the importance of reading in a day and age of electronic distractions.

The book starts off simply enough — Ulin is a concerned father, worried that his son isn't enjoying The Great Gatsby. Then it completely falls apart. It becomes more of a diatribe and a pat on the back than an essay on managing reading.

Here's the thing — not every reader likes The Great Gatsby. Yes, it's the most compact example of Fitzgerald's writing — containing the distilled themes and motifs that he had been developing throughout his writing career. But without knowing the body of his work, Gatsby can be a strange, off-putting book.

BUT even knowing Fitzgerald doesn't automatically make The Great Gatsby a beloved book. Nor does NOT liking Gatsby make the reader a failure at reading! For anyone to feel disappointment, frustration or concern over another person's lack of interest in personal favorites is shameful. Reading is a very personal experience. Not all books work for all people. ( )
  pussreboots | Mar 1, 2014 |
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[R]eading is, by its nature, a strategy for displacement, for pulling back from the circumstances of the present and immersing in the textures of a different life.

Lately, I've begun to think of this as the touchstone of a quiet revolution, an idea as insurrectionary, in its own sense, as those of Thomas Paine. Reading, after all, an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction, a matter of engagement in a society that seems to want nothing more than for us to disengage. [150]
Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. [16]
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An expansion of the author's Los Angeles Times essay explores the personal and cultural importance of reading in today's increasingly digital age, blending commentary with memoir to explain how the act of reading promotes engagement and mental freedom.… (more)

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