The online chopblock of text is making it hard to read anything else

Jennifer Howard, a professional writer and editor, found herself unable to re-read a Hermann Hesse novel she loved: the "grafted, spasmodic, online style" of reading has forced itself onto all of her reading, making immersion difficult and the text unsatisfying. So she knuckled down to review Maryanne Wolf's Reader, Come Home, a book about what's happening to our "reading brains."

…the average person "consumes about 34 gigabytes across varied devices each day" — some 100,000 words' worth of information. "Neither deep reading nor deep thinking can be enhanced by the aptly named 'chopblock' of time we are all experiencing, or by 34 gigabytes of anything per day," Wolf argues


Even as it keeps one eye on the future, "Reader, Come Home" embodies some old-fashioned reading pleasures, with quotes from Italo Calvino, John Dunne, Toni Morrison, Marcel Proust, Elie Wiesel and other illustrious word-workers. It unfolds as a series of letters addressed to "Dear Reader" from "Your Author," a call to remember that books come alive as exchanges between writers and readers.

That structure can make "Reader, Come Home" feel — in a corny but charming way — like a throwback to an era already gone, if it ever existed. Wolf offers a persuasive catalog of the cognitive and social good created by deep reading, but does not really acknowledge that the ability to read well has never been universal.

Make reading great again.

Photo: Johnnydeezwax, CC-BY-SA