I can honestly say that I truly savoured every word of The Lost Art of Reading. You see, I’m one of those twenty-something year olds that can usually be found bemoaning the sad lack of anything approaching literary interest (or literacy….) in the majority of the human population younger than myself. I also, usually, bemoan the uptake and rapid diffusion of video games and what seem to me rather stupid apps that seem to exist for no reason at all except momentary amusement. Possibly also as rapid moneymakers (in-game or in-app purchases, anyone?).
What I’m saying is, I am old. Maybe not (that) old in terms of the years I’ve been on this utterly average planet that orbits an utterly average star in the outer arm of an utterly average galaxy, but in terms of interests, habits, practices, and opinions. I still hand-write notes and section drafts. I prefer, by orders of magnitude, print books to ebooks (and the irony of the fact that this book was sent to me for review in Kindle format is not inconsiderable). I’m not that great at Twitter, though I like to think I can work Instagram pretty well. But most of all, I read. As a graduate student, I read. For fun, I read. I recommend books to other people. I take recommendations from other people. I would judge that, by conservative estimate, I spend a decent seventy percent of my available time awake in the activity of reading. And while I have surrounded myself with a great number of people who engage in this same activity largely because they simply want to, I’m (we’re) also aware that people like that are a rare breed. And a lot of the time is because, as Mr. Ulin points out, there is such a influx of information at all times of day that it seems impossible to teach a person of any age to sit down and allow themselves to sink into a book.
Reading a book is, I think, a submission of the self and of the world around you to whatever world it is that the book wants to take you to, and this requires a peculiar sort of concentration from a reader, what the author calls ‘deep reading’. It’s a kind of concentration that, as Ulin also points out, can both desert a reader and reinstate itself seemingly without cause or reason. The bookstagram community of which I am a part call these times ‘reading slumps’. It’s something we all go through and nothing to be ashamed of: most people, myself included, find themselves frustrated by it more than anything else. I’ve found the best way out of a reading slump for me is to try and disengage from technology and read a book that I’ve read so many times I could almost recite it with little recourse to the printed word. It’s usually Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or Peter Pan for me. I love them both. Then again, occasionally there’s nothing for it but to wait until the longing to simply sit and read hits you once more.
The Lost Art of Reading is the second edition of the 2010 publication by the same name. The author has updated it a bit, added a preface and afterword that situates the reader with him in the present time (the afterword at least was written in February of 2018, the second edition published in September 2018). ‘Turbulent’ would be a decent candidate for the descriptor of the year two thousand and eighteen, among others less savoury that spring to mind. The Lost Art of Reading is a reminder that reading, an art form itself, both contributes to and is also shaped by the identity of the reader and the many ways that the author and reader interact, even if that author may be millennia departed. Reading breathes life back into the long gone, and books transmute into teachers, friends, fantasies, by the simple act of opening and reading them. It is a reminder that in reading, we absorb ideas and concepts, things that we take into ourselves that become part of our psyche and so part of who we are; reading teaches us to think, to analyze, to imagine. I’m going to have to locate a physical copy of this book, I think, when I’m in a larger place and can actually fit more books into my living space.
Five star read, people.
Image credits: both the featured image and the inset image are from the publisher’s webpage for this title.
Disclaimer: While I was given a Kindle copy of this book for review, as with all my reviews the provenance of a title does not in any way affect my opinion of the content.