My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a book-length meditation on reading which started out life as this editorial in the L.A. Times. As essays do, it wanders through the author's own experiences and political ideas. Fortunately, he's not a Luddite and accepts e-reading as reading, and even considers that reading on the Internet may also be real reading: his point is that we have lost the ability of paying sustained attention to anything, particularly books.
Interesting premise, but I'm not sure this expansion is an improvement of the original essay. It doesn't cover new ground, and it doesn't retread the old territory better than other books of this type. An exceptional reading memoir is Francis Spufford's lovely The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading.
Ulin makes good points about the drawbacks of ebook technology, points I've heard before: limited selection (you can find Faulkner now!), readers' inability to share ebooks, censorship and the threat a monopoly poses to our shared cultural heritage. Ebooks can close up our reading choices, unlike the openness of books on shelves that your friends can see and comment upon. (I've had some great conversations at my bookshelves, but rarely around my Nook and never around my iPad.) Also, reading books on a device like an iPad invites distraction - and I suppose I proved Ulin's point by being distracted as I read by looking up the books and articles he mentions while at the same time taking notes for this review.
Ulin mentions the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas G. Carr (another book that began life as an essay, this one for the Atlantic Monthly).
Everyone interested in information and libraries should read Jorge Luis Borges' short story "The Library of Babel"! Borges' story may be magical realism, but the slim So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance by Gabriel Zaid (translated by Natasha Wimmer) reveals our book-glutted reality and may make you rethink your relationship to your "To Read" list.
- "How do we pause when we must know everything in an instant? How do we ruminate when we are constantly expected to respond? How do we immerse in something (an idea, an emotion, a decision) when we are no longer willing to give ourselves the space to reflect?" - 78
- "In December 2009, a study by the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California, San Diego, found that, 'in 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillions hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day.' One hundred thousand words is the equivalent of a three-hundred-page novel, and it's encouraging to learn that we all read that much." - 81
- "For the culture, though, books serve as a collective soul, a memory bank, bigger than mere commerce, not only to be bought and sold. When we can't share them, directly, one-to-one, our common informational heritage is compromised." - 123