The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L. Ulin

This is a longform essay about reading, inspired by Ulin’s son’s struggles to read and annotate The Great Gatsby (for school, naturally). Over its course, Ulin ranges widely over his own book-reviewing career; his relationship with his son; the reading habits of the author and others (including many other writers); studies of brain science and distraction patterns; politics and current events; the nature of memory (in memoir, in Ulin’s personal observation, and in scientific studies); e-readers; and much more. Though it was assigned to me as a craft book–meaning an instructive book about craft–I found an interesting element in Ulin’s own writing: his use of parenthetical quotations from other writers.

This could be a sort of self-referential exercise, too: a longform essay about why it’s so challenging these days to read such things as longform essays. (This book began as an essay in the Los Angeles Times, which was then expanded into the fuller-length version here, at ~150 pages.) I confess I found my attention wandering at times, which could be commentary on many issues, of which only one is Ulin’s talent on the page: distracted times, indeed. Overall I did enjoy the discussion, including the meanderings into the utility of the e-reader and Obama’s popularity ratings, and you won’t be surprised to hear that Ulin and I are in sync on many conclusions about the state of the world and of reading. “It’s harder than it used to be, but still, I read.”

Rating: 7 titles.

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