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[Saturday Reads] What Is The Lost Art Of Reading?

"The Lost Art Of Reading: Books And Resistance In A Troubled Time" by David L. Ulin.


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

The Lost Art Of Reading: Books And Resistance In A Troubled Time (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by David L. Ulin
Published by Sasquatch Books (2018, first published 2010)
ISBN: 1632171945 (ISBN13: 9781632171948). Bought my own copy of the book.

I have known about this book for quite awhile now. I have read snippets of it a year ago and used a few excerpts in one of my keynote speeches. However, it was only early this year when I finally had a chance to read it from cover to cover, but I thought of postponing my review until now, for our current reading theme.

When I read this book in January, we have just finished our #WomenReadWomen2019 theme and so I needed to reframe for a bit. I am not certain whether it was because I had been accustomed to reading female authors that I found the narrative style in this one too meandering, digressing from one point to another, that I oftentimes get lost in my reading, and struggled to catch the essence of the original premise.

That being said, digressions all still converge on the theme connected to the lost art of reading. The whole narrative seemed more like a speech meant to be read aloud, or an extended letter to someone, with broad swaths of themes merged together into some measure of coherence.

I was also left wondering what it would take for an essay that pontificates about the significance of reading to be done in a subtle way that goes beyond just preaching to the converted (like myself), but is also inviting to those who are on the verge of becoming a reader (without making them feel that they are being judged for not being a reader yet) – or those who proudly claim that they are not readers and are not remotely interested in becoming one. Whatever it is, I would like to write (or read) something like that.

While there were quite a number of passages that spoke to me deeply, I am only sharing a few with you all, even as I think I am also preaching to the choir:

Here is another that I also find to be quite striking, especially now that people only seem to read things which confirm their personal worldview or political leaning, and decry any opposing idea as misinformation or biased reporting.

We come to books (or, at least, I do) to see beneath the cover story, to be challenged and confounded, made to question our assumptions, even as the writers we read are compelled to question their own.

What does that mean? On the one hand, it’s an argument for nuance, for the role of narrative as a mechanism to confront the chaos, to frame a set of possible interpretations while acknowledging that these could shift at any time. Yet even more essential, I would argue, it’s a call to engage. Stories, after all, – whether aesthetic or political – require sustained concentration; we need to approach them as one side of a conversation in which we also play a part. If we don’t, we end up susceptible to manipulation, emotional or otherwise. (p. 44-45)

There is a scientific study that was mentioned towards the end of the book, conducted by the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University about what reading fiction does to the brain, particularly the mirror neurons that are activated, which lead to empathy:

“Deep reading, says the study’s lead researcher, Nicole Speer, ‘is by no means a passive exercise.’ The reader becomes the book.”

The reader becomes the book. This is an important – perhaps the most important – point. What it suggests is that reading is a way to map, or imprint, certain emotional states or experiences, that it is a template by which we come to a reckoning with life. (p. 100)

There is still a lot here in the book to be mined for further exploration and for thoughtful consideration. Needless to say, it is a lovely present to give to the bibliophile in your classroom or in your family.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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