The lost art of reading

Why would a life-time lover of books suddenly discover that he’s having trouble sitting down to read? “It isn’t a failure of desire so much as one of will,” writes David Ulin, book editor of the Los Angeles Times. “Or not will, exactly, but focus: the ability to still my mind long enough to inhabit someone else’s world, and to let that someone else inhabit mine.”

You can blame the Internet. At least, Ulin does. A contemplative state, he writes, “is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted.”

Ulin’s words may sound uncomfortably familiar to many. Even late at night, he says, when his wife and children are asleep - once his favorite reading time - he now finds it hard to get quiet enough to sink deeply into a book.

“I pick up a book and read a paragraph,” he writes, and “then my mind wanders and I check my e-mail, drift onto the Internet, pace the house before returning to the page. Or I want to do these things but don’t. I force myself to remain still, to follow whatever I’m reading until the inevitable moment I give myself over to the flow. Eventually I get there, but some nights it takes 20 pages to settle down. What I’m struggling with is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there is something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it’s mostly just a series of disconnected riffs and fragments that add up to the anxiety of the age.” (Marjorie Kehe)