One evening not long ago, my fifteen-year-old son, Noah, told me that literature was dead.
–David L. Ulin - The lost art of reading - c. 2010 - pg.1
It is strange, I’ve often come across media stories on the “decline” of reading as a result of modern technology. Social networks, texting, these sort of things are bringing about the end of literacy. That strikes me as strange because these are often text based media. After all tweeting or posting a status update requires you to write those words out, and your friend must then read them. But of course, that isn’t the sort of literacy these studies are talking about. They are talking about “literature”. Maybe it is wrong of a blog that titles itself Susan hated literature to be looking at this. Of course, in reality, i don’t hate literature at all. I just think that it can be a loaded term, used by the snobbish to put down other people. To say that X is worthy of investing your time in, while Y is simple trash.
Luckily, this book isn’t one of those. It is however about a particular sort of reading. Book reading. A slower sort of reading, the author Ulin argues, than the reading used to decipher the internet. That is often a quick cursory glance, a jump from tweet to blog to facebook, and back around again. And Ulin points to research that has shown that neural pathways differ when used to navigating the internet than they do with people more used to reading books. What that means for the likes of me, who does bother I’m not sure.
Reading a book, in contrast is
an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being (pg. 16)
. It is slower and more indepth, and it is, in many ways a dying art. Or practise might be a better word. Many people no longer immerse themselves in a book, in the viewpoint and perspective of another person. In this book Ulin argues that even for readers like himself it is getting harder and harder to find that time to allow for this slow reading. The internet and email is a constant distraction. One that he must battle with in order to find the stillness to read and wallow in a good book.
This is a wonderful little book. I’m not sure I agree with all of Ulin’s opinions. We differ on the wonders of the kindle, he isn’t convinced by it while I think it is just great, although I doubt it, or other readers, will ever replace hard copy books entirely. But if you are a book lover and a reader then you should take a look at this book. It has so many passages that resonate with you if you have grown up loving to read. Whether that is being given out to for always reading, or using books as an escape, you should be able to find something to relate to here. And it does help that it is really well written and entertaining.
And it finished with a statement I agree with one hundred per cent:
I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It’s harder than it used to be, but still, I read. (pg. 151)
(more quotes on tumblr)