Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reading as an act of "quiet revolution"

In The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, David Ulin expands upon an essay he wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2009. This slim volume is an ode to the practice of reading in our current age of information overload. Ulin's book combines memoir and literary criticism, a blend that works well. He frames the content with his experience rereading The Great Gatsby as his son reads it for a school assignment.

What reading gives us, Ulin says, is not only meditation apart from other people but also the connection we form with the author through his or her words. "We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise, the tumult, to discover our reflections in another mind" (151). Ulin goes so far as to characterize reading in this day and age as revolutionary, "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).

The implications of this distracted state are addressed in another recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle, who asserts that we are becoming so "immersed in technology that we ignore what we know about life." This thought is in line with Ulin's belief that we should take a step back from the large number of distractions we face. Few of us are immune, and we all may need reminding about the value of reading.