Literature is dead. Reading is “over.” These are the contentions of Noah Ulin, the 15-year-old son of David Ulin, to whom these statements were like a knife thrust in the heart. The former book review editor of the Los Angeles Times: “almost asked for a towel to clean up the blood.”
The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time (Sasquatch, Nov.) is not another screed against the information age. Rather, it is Ulin’s honest attempt to come to terms with Noah and with his own sense of “How do things stick to us in a culture where information and ideas flare up so quickly that we have no time to assess one before another takes its place? How does reading maintain its hold on our imagination, or is the question even worth asking anymore?”
And before anyone says it’s not (Hey, we’re all readers here. Otherwise we wouldn’t be reading your book, would we?), let’s admit we’ve all been seduced by the omnipresent siren call of e-mail, eBay, Twitter, Facebook, Google News, and iPhone apps—to name just a few electronic distractions.
Ulin knows the feeling all too well: “Sometime in the last few years—I don’t remember when, exactly—I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read.” Frankly, it’s comforting to know that even a David Ulin finds himself unable to concentrate while surrounded by the pervasive, frantic buzz of the Internet
Ulin bravely undertakes to help Noah appreciate Gatsby. Along with this father-son journey, Ulin confronts the question of whether and how the Internet might enhance our reading—a question that must inevitably occur to anyone who straddles the worlds of books and the Internet:
Ulin’s conclusion is that “[r]eading …is 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.” (This sounds almost as if it were intended to be a reader’s complement to Edwidge Danticat’s forthcoming Create Dangerously: readers, as well as writers, are engaging in an act of resistance). Ulin feels he must accede to reading’s demand for “a place for silence,”
Readers of Ulin’s book will all come to their own conclusions. But hopefully they will find this book both a challenge and a solace in a time when we all struggle to balance immediacy with the slow, immersive process of reading a book.