David Ulin has a problem:
Sometime late last year — I don't remember when, exactly — I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read. That's a problem if you do what I do, but it's an even bigger problem if you're the kind of person I am. Since I discovered reading, I've always been surrounded by stacks of books. I read my way through camp, school, nights, weekends; when my girlfriend and I backpacked through Europe after college graduation, I had to buy a suitcase to accommodate the books I picked up along the way. . . .
So what happened? It isn't a failure of desire so much as one of will. 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. Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves. . . . In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.
Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
I’ve been there myself. A couple of years ago I was in Ulin’s condition, and it was worrying me a good deal. I thought I might have entered into a state of permanent and inescapable distraction. However, I did escape, and the prime aid to my recovery of my old long-attention-span self was . . . the Kindle. Yes, that’s right. I have written earlier on this blog about the positive reading momentum the Kindle can generate: I went through a period when I read about twenty books in a row on the Kindle, and after I did, I had my reading mojo back.
Interestingly, once I got it back I lost a good deal of interest in the Kindle, and I haven't read many books on it in the last six months or so. Im not sure quite what to make of that, but I will always be thankful to the gadget for the restorative work it did on me.