Cover image for The lost art of reading : books and resistance in a troubled time / David L. Ulin.
Title:
The lost art of reading : books and resistance in a troubled time / David L. Ulin.
Title Variants:
Books and resistance in a troubled time
ISBN:
9781632171948
Edition:
Second edition.
Publication Information:
Seattle, WA : Sasquatch Books, [2018]

©2018
Physical Description:
xxxiii, 156 pages ; 19 cm
General Note:
Based on an essay that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on August 9, 2009.
Abstract:
"The new introduction and afterword bring fresh relevance to this insightful rumination on the act of reading--as a path to critical thinking, individual and political identity, civic engagement, and resistance. The former LA Times book critic expands his short book, rich in ideas, on the consequence of reading to include the considerations of fake news, siloed information, and the connections between critical thinking as the key component of engaged citizenship and resistance. Here is the case for reading as a political act in both public and private gestures, and for the ways it enlarges the world and our frames of reference, all the while keeping us engaged"-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

The new introduction and afterword bring fresh relevance to this insightful rumination on the act of reading--as a path to critical thinking, individual and political identity, civic engagement, and resistance.

The former LA Times book critic expands his short book, rich in ideas, on the consequence of reading to include the considerations of fake news, siloed information, and the connections between critical thinking as the key component of engaged citizenship and resistance. Here is the case for reading as a political act in both public and private gestures, and for the ways it enlarges the world and our frames of reference, all the while keeping us engaged.


Author Notes

David L. Ulin is a critic, essayist, editor, and novelist. He is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow and recipient of the California Book Award and has been shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. His writing has appeared in the LA Times (where he spent ten years as book editor and book critic), the Atlantic Monthly , the Nation , the New York Times , the Paris Review , Virginia Quarterly Review , AGNI , Zyzzyva , Columbia Journalism Review , and on NPR's All Things Considered . He is assistant professor of English at the University of Southern California.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Expanding on a 2009 essay, Ulin, former book review editor of the Los Angeles Times, addresses the act of reading and its place in our information overloaded age. Ulin relies mainly on his own experiences as a loyal reader-specifically a recent attempt to reread The Great Gatsby alongside his son Noah's high school English class-which goes devastatingly wrong ("You'd fail if you were in my class," Noah pronounces). Ulin uses this incident to frame the larger narrative, fluently addressing the art and craft of literature, the reader's participation, the writer and the writing-and the act of rereading. He addresses in greater depth distractions from reading, specifically the ever-present seductions of technology, and the experience of reading on a screen. Moving toward an optimistic note, Ulin argues that technology can enlarge us, citing Rick Moody and Jennifer Egan as writers who embrace this ever-changing landscape. Ulin's short book not only puts forth a strong and passionate case for reading but also compiles a reading list of writers and critics (e.g., Anne Fadiman, Joan Didion, David Shields) who have influenced Ulin and who are well worth reading. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

An 'odd sort of distraction' has hindered the art of reading, David L. Ulin says. "WE come to books," David L. Ulin writes in "The Lost Art of Reading," "to be challenged and confounded, made to question our assumptions." With this principle in mind, here is the news that Ulin brings in this slim, meandering book: that reading is "an act of contemplation"; that such an act becomes more difficult in "our overnetworked society, where every buzz and rumor is instantly blogged and tweeted, and it is not contemplation we desire but an odd sort of distraction"; that the analphabetic anger of anonymous Internet comment threads is emblematic of a "degraded cultural conversation" in which "the ability to carry out a logical argument" has been lost; that technology brings a boon but also a burden: "We are never disconnected, never out of touch"; and lastly, coming full circle, that in this "landscape of distraction," reading becomes not just an act of contemplation but one of "resistance." All of which is true enough, but that's precisely the problem. While I occasionally disagreed with Ulin's book, I wasn't once challenged or confounded or even surprised by it. In fairness to Ulin, one could object that I'm not the book's intended audience, convinced as I already am of "why books matter in a distracted time." But this objection deepens the problem. If a friend who has fallen away from the habit of reading for pleasure (or else never acquired it) should ask me what to read, I can choose from a nearly endless shelf, tailoring my recommendation to her particular interests and tastes. If - less likely - she should ask me how to read, my options are fewer but still plenty. James Wood's "How Fiction Works" is as good a primer on engaging with literary fiction as one could want; Zadie Smith's recent "Changing My Mind" and similar collections of essays and reviews by Cynthia Ozick and Daniel Mendelsohn offer the opportunity to listen in while a great reader goes about the task. But if my friend should ask me why to read - whether to read - it would only beg the question to respond by handing her a book. If those of us who already take most of Ulin's conclusions as articles of faith are not his intended audience, who exactly is? Ulin is a critic for The Los Angeles Times and formerly the newspaper's book editor, and "The Lost Art of Reading" began life last year as a brief essay in that paper. The essay was widely circulated and discussed, mostly by way of e-mail and blog referrals - a fact that might have made Ulin question his assumptions (though apparently it did not). Now Ulin has spun his essay out to book length, mostly by way of autobiographical material about his life as a reader and his relationship with his reading-resistant son, Noah. There are also political observations, largely of a piece with the rest of the book. Thus, we are told that the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - "without a white man in sight" - was "truly revolutionary." During the general election that followed, we are told, Sarah Palin rather than John McCain "came to represent the anti-Barack Obama." We are told that politicians now regurgitate talking points on "The View" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show." And Ulin suggests this might all be otherwise if only more people practiced the lost art. I can easily imagine forwarding Ulin's original article to my hypothetical friend seeking a reason to take reading seriously. Likewise, I can imagine her stumbling on it herself, impulsively clicking a link while in search of entertainment news or the latest box office take. But it's difficult to picture such a person buying and reading this feathered-out version of the essay in book form. One might ask why Ulin expanded the essay at all, except that the uninspiring answer - because an editor offered to publish it - is presented up front, in Ulin's acknowledgments. There is no pleasure to be had in dealing roughly with a work as well meaning as Ulin's; it feels almost perverse to criticize a book for being too agreeable. And yet. As a reviewer, Ulin must know that books themselves make up a healthy tributary of this river of information in which we're all drowning. The publishing industry, like every industry, needs product to push, notwithstanding the fact that a truly necessary book is a rare thing. Here is a challenging and confounding truth you won't find anywhere in Ulin's pages: There are too many books, and this is part of the problem. David Ulin's intentions are beyond reproach, but his book is another distraction. In this age of distraction, Ulin writes, reading is an act of 'resistance.' Christopher R. Beha is an editor at Harper's Magazine and the author of "The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everything Else."