Review: Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf
Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How do you fairly assess a book that is about deep reading and the superior thinking that devices from that but includes as part of its argument something taken right out of an urban legend--thereby, undermining and questioning the research that the author put into the book to make the argument? That's the question I'm grappling with as I review this book. At a point where she is arguing that we need to, of course, "think of the children" (my quote, not her), she mentions that prisons are evaluating third-grade literacy levels to project future beds. This is a falsehood that is easily discovered by Googling and yet, she leverages it as a rallying call. If there is proof of shallow reading, then mayhaps it's referring to that urban legend.

Wolf provides a powerful and thought-provoking series of letters about the challenges and concerns that are (or maybe or we worry are) on the horizon as children grow up in a digital age, bypassing the experiences of deep learning. She draws on research that hints (though never full draws a line from A to B) that digital devices are dwindling not our ability to read but to read deeply. Like Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, she claims that she knows this to be true because she has found it happening to her in her own reading habits, particularly when she tried to re-read deeply a Herman Hesse novel.

On several levels, I do think Wolf is on the right track in getting us to consider the place of technology in children and youth. But at times, I rub up against a disdain or assumption that reading deeply is or should be the goal of everybody or that--without evidence--we are somehow losing massive amounts of people to reading shallowly or not at all. I say this largely because when I go online there is a never-ending tidal way of people writing amazing and powerful stuff based upon their deep-readings of all sorts of literature. In many ways, it doesn't feel like the demise but the dawn of such an age. But I think her book rises higher than Carr's and relies on better research to show that things are shifting, even though if we don't fully understand what that means.

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