Library Voices

a Ringling College blog

Archive for September, 2011

The Lost Art of Reading

Posted by annfinn on September 19, 2011

The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin,  Sasquatch Books, c2010.

Z 1003 .U44 2010

You’re reading this, so, what’s  so lost about the art of reading? 

Is this just another in the recent spate of books decrying what total connectedness has done to the quality of our lives?  It is that, but it’s not just about the devolution in our relationships, nor the recent increase in our distractibility.  Ulin’s book is about the damage to our ability to connect with others via deep, immersive reading.

Ulin comes to the topic with his own history of deep reading.  He didn’t just consume books, rather they consumed him.  With a catholic taste, he swam through a world of fiction—reading as a way of life.  According to Ulin, books enlarge us by giving us experiences not our own.  Through reading, Ulin built his world of real & imaginary places, people, & events.  Authors long dead or still alive communicated their knowledge of feelings.  As deep readers, we recreate the author’s world inside our minds.  The push/pull between author and reader is how literature works.  Reading good writing can collapse the distances between inhabitants of disparate nations, time periods, or emotional predispositions.    Ulin describes it thusly: The reader integrates the book with his own experience so, “…the reader becomes the book.”  Good writing collapses time, but reading web-page trivia is like reading a data dump that’s always about the present.

To really listen to an author’s outpouring requires a scenario for listening, i.e. deep, silent reading.  Also required is time to reflect on what was read.  Our overpowering, constant, digital-telecommunication interconnectedness, with its accompanying background noise of constant distraction, is increasingly thwarting those requirements.  Many can no longer find the necessary quiet.  They are unable to relax enough to concentrate their minds.  Perhaps because technology is changing our brains??

Our world rewards & encourages a “the faster, the more connected—the better” kind of thinking.   Books are in direct opposition to that idea.  With the rise of hypertext & web-site links, many in our society seem to have lost the ability to carry an argument to its logical conclusion, pursue a line of thought, or tolerate a conflicting point of view.  Many even seem wary of expertise—denying the necessity for considered action and deep knowledge.  According to Ulin, the subsequent breakdown in sequential thought processes has nearly brought us to a tipping point—a collective breakdown in which our common narrative has become hopelessly frayed.

Though only almost-pocket-sized small, this short essay raises large issues.  Ulin essentially asks: Can democracy survive in a country where citizens’ care is concentrated on the trivia of the present to the exclusion of most everything else?   Heck, forget about democracy.  What of our humanity?  If we survive, what type of people will we be, once we’ve abandoned interest in history, sequential reasoning, and depth of feeling?  If deep reading is lost, perhaps the next thing we will lose will be– us.

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