Deep Reading

There was a very interesting article in Thursday's New York Times by Michelle Slatalla. The basic premise of the article was that modern technology has reduced her reading habits to Web sites, blogs, emails, Tweets, and the occasional newspaper or magazine article and that all this reading has left her feeling "mentally flabby." Basically, she claimed, all this modern technology has shortened her attention span to such a point that she spent 30 minutes attempting to read Doctorow's "Homer and Langley" only to get through the first sentence or so having been distracted by the possibility of email and text messages.

To help her through this crisis she turned to reading expert Dr. Maryanne Wolf who explained that deep reading actually involves creating new ways in which your brain uses circuits initially intended for things like oral language and vision--or in other words, reading is not something that our brains are naturally designed to do. To become a reader (or a deep reader as put forward by Slatalla and Wolf--which I am desperately trying not to read as a pretentious reader) one must work at and practise the art--something that one must force oneself into doing until it becomes enjoyable.

Wolf then goes on to suggest that Slatalla try reading "Gilead" as an "easy re-entry" into the world of deep books. This is where I had to stop and stare and then re-read the paragraph to make sure I had read this correctly. Gilead an easy read? No. Gilead a really well written book that I only really loved once I had completed it--you need to finish this book to fully understand the book and how/why it all fits together. Yes.

True the book was being suggested as a deep read--deep read defined as "the kind that you engage in when you get lost in the syntax and imagery and the long, convoluted sentences of a really meaty book"--so I suppose that perhaps changes the rules a little bit in relation to how truly entertaining or page-turning the book itself is during the actual reading. Still, I've got to believe there are meaty books out there that would be an easier introduction or re-introduction into the world of deep books--also I believe that there are books out their that are meaty and convoluted and still easy/entertaining to read and this sometimes makes me look at books like "Gilead" as pretentious books that are only read in order to be able to casually title drop at cocktail parties (did I mention that I have read "Gilead").

And really, I must stop here and argue that a book needn't be convoluted in order to have depth. In fact, this is one of my main complaints against people who look down on me for being an adult who reads young adult literature. To merely assume that since a book is written for teenagers that it doesn't tackle real issues in a mature and, yes, deep manner is simply foolish.

I've wondered over the weekend at the idea of reintroducing someone into the world of reading books by suggesting "Gilead"--and it truth I've further wondered at it being suggested to Slatalla in light of her difficulty in reading "Homer and Langley" as they appear to be similar in style. It is one thing, I think, to suggest that book to a person who wants to take their reading to a higher level. It is, however, an entirely different thing to suggest it to a person, who like Slatalla, has lost the ability to maintain her attention on anything over 3 pages in length. Wouldn't it be wiser to suggest a book (even a simplistic book) that will easily capture the reader and then once they have finished that book congratulate them and then suggest something like "Gilead" that will stretch and strengthen their reading stamina?

In conclusion, I'll just say that I do enjoy a deep book (and not only for the title-dropping possibilities). There is something very satisfying in reading something complicated. It makes one feel smart and smartens one as well.

What book, if not "Gilead," would I suggest? Good question. Maybe "The Count of Monte Cristo" or "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" for starters and then maybe "Atonement" or "The Road" for a little bit deeper reading. Then, of course, by all means move on and read "Gilead."

What are your suggestions?

1 comment:

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Gilead WAS a hard read according to said definition. I know exactly about the the mentally flabby feeling. To combat I read Life of Pi this week. Oh, it is SOOOOO good.