Friday, August 1, 2014

The Book Lover's Den #1: The 'Lost' Art of Reading

Welcome to my new Friday feature!

In each bi-weekly post, I will be 
exploring my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.  

This is the first of several posts about that wonderful activity we bookworms take for granted -- the reading process itself. 

I recently came across a 2009 article archived on the Los Angeles Times website; its author states that reading is a lost art.  David L. Ulin, Book Editor of the Times, begins his article with the sad observation that he is actually finding it difficult to sit down to read.  Reading is an act of focusing the mind; as he puts it, "...the ability to still my mind long enough to inhabit someone else's world, and to let that someone else inhabit mine."  He then goes on to write something so beautiful it takes my breath away: "Reading is an act of contemplation..."  He expands on this, of course, but this part of the sentence strikes me as an exquisitely beautiful thought.  Reading is, indeed, an act of contemplation.  We contemplate other realities, thus transcending our own.  We enter other worlds, seduced by the magic of language, or we explore and perhaps embrace new philosophical, psychological, or religious thoughts. 

How very sad indeed, that most likely due to the pressures and sheer "busyness" of our lives, as well as our technological world, we could possibly find it nearly impossible to immerse ourselves in a book...  According to Ulin, reading is an act of slowing down, and I definitely agree.  Paradoxically, however, I think it's also an act of speeding up, for the mind makes pictures and connections as it reads.  Sudden insights might come to a reader, as a previously difficult passage suddenly makes sense.  Beautiful fantasy landscapes full of magical wonders beckon, and one can almost touch them.  When a reader is really "into" a book,  and the act of reading is suddenly interrupted, s/he can feel a real shock on being returned to "the real world".  This is true whether one is reading fiction or nonfiction.

I don't quite agree with Ulin when he says that reading is a 'lost' art, however.   There are, after all, millions of books in print all over the world.  Furthermore, Kindles and Nooks are selling very well, although I will certainly never buy either one, since I do prefer to hold a real, printed book in my hands.  The point remains that the act of reading is alive and well.  In spite of all the activities taking up our time, we ardent book lovers will always make some time to read, even if it's on the morning and evening commute (I'm referring, of course, to those who take trains or buses to and from work).  Ulin says he reads primarily at night, when the household has quieted down, but even then, his mind wanders. 

Ulin wistfully recalls his childhood experiences with reading, and how easy it was for him to become totally lost in a book back then.  Now, as an adult, he has to make a conscious effort to get into the proper frame of mind, but he hasn't stopped reading.  To a person who loves reading, it's an activity as necessary as eating or even breathing. 

I do my best reading late at night, staying up until 3:00 AM.  Everything is so quiet...and I am then able to really dive into whatever book I'm reading at the moment.  Sometimes, when I happen to glance at the clock, while stifling a yawn, I am surprised to see that it's way past 3:00 AM!

To a die-hard bookworm like me, it's simply unthinkable not to make time to read at least an hour every single day. In fact, I can get pretty irritable if I don't manage to read my minimum daily quota. However, I can relate to what Ulin is saying in his article; there have been times when I have not been able to concentrate on the book in front of me as much as I'd like to. Sometimes, this is because the book I'm reading has failed to hold my interest. If it's a novel, then the author has not succeeded in persuading me to suspend my disbelief. If the book is nonfiction, then it might be that the author is not skillful enough in presenting his/her topic in an engaging manner, at least for me. There might be statements in  the book that I feel are totally ridiculous, for example, and not backed up with sufficient data. 

Unfortunately, there are those times when I know that some real-life worry, which had been hiding in  the back of my mind all day, suddenly surfaces, and just at the point that I want to forget reality in order to immerse myself in the book. So these are the times that, no matter how enticing the book, I simply cannot let go and make the plunge. Still, I persevere. I would never dream of giving up reading! So I would say that, far from being a 'lost' art, it's simply one that has to be cultivated, even 'courted', at certain times, as one might do with a reluctant romantic prospect.  

Now I'd like to throw some questions out to you, my readers.  How easy is it for you to get lost in a book?  Are you able to find enough time to read?  What advice would you offer to other readers who are having difficulty finding the time to read, and being able to focus on a book?  How would you compare your ability to immerse yourself in a book when you were a child, as opposed to now? 

You can access Ulin's article

What's your opinion on this topic?
Please leave a link to your blog
so I can come over and comment on one of your posts!


  1. Great post Maria.

    I think that we have discussed many of these issues before.

    I agree with you that I think we do not give enough credit to how many people are reading these days. I also think that they are reading good stuff as much, though not all, popular literature seems to have themes and ideas underlying it.

    I can usually read except for when I am very worried. At those times it is hard to concentrate. My reading skills have improved over time. I have a much longer attention span, able to concentrate better, and my vocabulary is better.

    As we agree there is never enough time to read. It is not so much the electronics with me, but I work a lot and have a lot of other interests.

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Hey, Brian!

      It's definitely true that some popular literature has profound underlying themes. Even Young Adult Fiction deals with such themes as the power of love and loyalty, concern for human life (The Twilight Saga), concern for the environment and women's rights (Of Beast and Beauty), and many others. A lot of YA books nowadays are also classified as dystopian fiction, which places them squarely in the tradition of such adult classics as "Brave New World", "1984", and "Fahrenheit 451". I LOVE it when I see such themes in YA fiction!!

      Speaking of "Fahrenheit 451", the science fiction genre, which is classified as 'genre fiction', and is therefore popular fiction, has always dealt with profound themes. "Fahrenheit 451", for example, deals with book censorship. The great SF authors, like Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein, excel at this. A HUGE favorite of mine, who is not often cited, is Cordwainer Smith. Check him out if you haven't read his works. GREAT stuff!!

      I have the same problem you do -- I can't read either when I'm worried about something.

      Of course, reading skills and vocabulary improve over time. As for attention span, I would sadly have to agree with Ulin; that mine used to be better when I was a child, teen, and young adult. However, now that I don't have the morning job, I'm getting my attention span back!! That's because, as I stated in this post, I much prefer to read late into the night. I'm much better able to focus at that time. The only problem is that I'm not a fast reader. I have this habit of pronouncing words in my head as I read, and I can't stop doing that. Still, I don't like the idea of zipping through books, either, just to show off how many books I've read. I love to SAVOR a book as I read. Well, maybe that's why I feel compelled to pronounce the words in my head. Maybe that actually helps me concentrate, too. Lol.

      As for reading time, it's very ironic, but now it's mostly my blog that's keeping me from reading as much as I'd like! But I simply can't give up blogging about books! I LOVE it too much!! It's my one creative outlet, too. I can use my art skills as well as my writing skills, and that's EXTREMELY gratifying!! Although I didn't design the header, I did design the blog itself, using a Blogger template and background. (Oh, how I LOVE that background!!!) Jennifer Johnson, the graphic designer at Sapphire Blog Designs (another lover of the color blue!!) created the header for me, and it fits perfectly with the rest of the blog!! The one thing I did do was to choose the font for the blog name. It's called "Jokerman", and I found it on the Picasa software. Jennifer is highly talented, as you can see!! She also designed my blog buttons.

      I have also designed the logos for my memes, like "Shelf Candy Saturday" and the new one, "The Book Lover's Den". I also designed my own logo for another blog's meme -- "Waiting On Wednesday". I did all three of these with stock photos I purchased from a stock photo website. Then I used the Picasa software to put in the titles and the name of my blog, and reduced them to the desired size.

      So now I'm attempting to strike a balance between reading time and blogging time. I hope to improve in this regard!

      Thanks for the fabulous comment!! Hope you're having a great weekend!! : )


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