Why everyone should read more: commentary on key points from a radio interview with David Ulin

When was the last time you read a book? Yes, including e-books. Fan-fiction? Sure, who am I to judge. I would even count 50 Shades of Grey.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

But, why do books matter?

In a 2010 radio interview Michael Kransy KQED forum host, discussed “The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time,” an essay-turned-novel by David Ulin, Los Angeles Times book critic.

Ulin addressed a concern that reading cannot provide the same experience to readers in this age of “digital monopoly.” He said that most are so consumed with reading snippets of conversation on Facebook and Twitter, that reading books feels too long and cumbersome.

Photo credit: David Ulin's twitter
Photo credit: Twitter

He argued that reading is essential to developing empathy for foreign experiences and cultures.
“It (reading) made me feel as if a world had opened up in the palm of my hands. It is this, I think, that draws us to books in the first place, their nearly magical power to transport us to other landscapes, other lives,” Ulin says in the original, published essay.

In a 2012 story published by the Harvard Business Review blog, academic research indicated that “fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness.” Meaning, the more we read, the more we understand about people and cultures outside our own.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

Ulin claimed that social media overwhelms an individual’s need for involvement, making them feel like they must remain digitally connected to other users or they may miss something crucial in their absence. He argued that reading was a very solitary action as opposed to social networking which is very public. For example, engagement with a book is solely between the text and the reader, where responding to a tweet affects the writer, the reader, all their followers and Twitter as a whole.

“I read for just that reason, as if books were ripcords, escape

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

hatches, portals out of my own life,” Ulin said. He explained that most readers don’t share this readiness for surrender, as reading requires the audience to follow a speed and rhythm that the author dictates.  However, Ulin stated that this “act of meditation” is “crucial for centering yourself in a digital age.”

He continued, arguing that using social media removes the necessity for reflection after reading. Ulin openly admitted to being a slow reader, stating that giving yourself over to the “unfolding” of a novel is what makes the experience worthwhile.

“Writers tend to read selfishly… noticing how sentences and paragraphs are formed,” agreed Anna Leahy in a story for Huffington Post Books. But, it’s not just writers that take extra time to break down the story. Ulin admitted to starting The Great Gatsby and taking almost six months to finish it. However, the imperative was never to just finish the story, but to absorb it in whole, analyzed detail.

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

“Immersion (getting caught up) and reflection (critical reading) are learned processes that book lovers use to appreciate a poem or novel. But each process can undermine the other, especially in the classroom setting, where passing a test may be a more overt goal than enjoying the story,” Leahy said.

Reading is essential to education and socio-political awareness. In an interview with Laura Bristol, recent western New York home-schooled, high-school graduate, she commented that most of her co-workers seemed less articulate and less aware of world events.
“Most of them don’t read, and you can see that in the things they say and do,” Bristol said.

She explained that reading and books were necessary to her education, but even now she uses them to explore unfamiliar situations and points of view.
“You don’t stop learning when you finish school,” she said. “You’re learning throughout your entire life and books are definitely essential to that.”

Photo credit: Creative Commons
Photo credit: Creative Commons

If you don’t read now—get started. Find something that moves you, and don’t put it down. Relax yourself and slip into someone else’s story. Let yourself see life through someone else’s eyes.

Read. Analyze. Understand. Grow.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” Mortimer J Adler


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