David L. Ulin
This is a short book. Which is good, because it’s so easy to be distracted when you’re reading. More and more, we’re reading online, skimming novels on our little phones, clicking links and losing that sense of being totally immersed in a book.
The author, a former book review editor for a big newspaper, found that concentrating on reading was becoming more difficult, as was tuning out the buzz of the wired world and getting deeply into a book, and this book is an expansion of an essay he wrote on that subject.
He’s not anti-technology at all – he has an e-reader and uses it – but he feels like the connection between the writer and the reader is fraying because we’re drifting away from good writing and good reading as we shift to a way of life with shorter attention spans. Some authors are using new digital media as a way of enhancing their work, and he gives them praise, but they’re in the minority. It’s his personal opinion throughout this book – he doesn’t pull up citations and tables to show you how the world is changing, and while he’s clearly lamenting the loss of connection with literature, he’s not yelling at those damn neighborhood Kindles to get off his lawn.
As a person who has always loved books, I can relate to his sentiment. I nearly always have a book with me. I bring books on vacation. I won’t buy a purse until I’ve tried stuffing a normal hardcover book inside, to see whether it’ll fit. The damp scent of old yellowing paperbacks makes me happy. My home is filled with books and it physically pains me to throw any away. I find it strange to see someone reading Pride and Prejudice on an iPhone, although I can understand the convenience factor.
Like Ulin, I have noticed my shortening attention span and it bothers me. I’ve been avoiding reading fiction because I find myself bored, flipping ahead to get to the point. But the point isn’t the point – reading is about the trip, and that’s getting harder for me to remember. So I’ve been eating up nonfiction, reading too quickly and not retaining nearly as much as I’d like, because I don’t have the time and attention and energy to absorb a good novel and all it has to offer. And that’s what Ulin is getting at with his book.
Maybe I’ll ease back into fiction by rereading a favorite or two.