skip to Main Content

Are we losing the ability to read deeply?

It’s lovely to immerse yourself in a book that doesn’t require much of you. The characters are easily understood, and behave exactly as you would expect them too.

The plot is clear and uncomplicated, and the ending neatly ties off loose ends.

But sometimes, you read a book that requires more. The ending might be ambiguous and the characters complex.

These books require deeper reading – more effort for arguably greater reward.

This kind of deep reading has been in the news lately, first in a column in The Australian by Nicki Gemmell and then on the ABC’s The Minefield podcast.

Both were lamenting the lost ability to read deeply, as the internet steals our concentration.

I have to admit that I am no stranger to the lure of a 5-second Instagram video or a pithy Twitter post. I am as inclined as anyone to start scrolling at the first sign of boredom.

And I get as much pleasure as anyone out of a page-turner that tells more than it shows.

But my response to a recent book did make me wonder whether I have grown too accustomed to the meaning of a book being served up to me like a tray of airline food (and proving to be just as unsatisfying).

I listened to Too Cold for Snow by Jessica Au in the car travelling between Adelaide and Ballarat. It was a long drive that was perfect for an audiobook.

Too Cold for Snow had been mentioned by some writers in a weekend newspaper as being among their books of the year.

But having listened to it, I felt strangely unmoved. Nothing much happened. There was no climax, no resolution. It ended without any apologies or redemption. I was unimpressed.

However, on hearing about this emerging inability of readers to look beyond the obvious, I wondered whether I had missed the point.

Judging by the critical praise and awards the book has received, there is clearly more going on than I recognised at first and I think it will take another reading to identify what I missed the first time.

I don’t know whether this is just my experience or a sign of a general unwillingness (or inability?) to read deeply.

And is the wider claim that we’ve all lost our concentration yet another prediction of the downfall of the book, or a glitch until we all tire of the bite-sized nuggets of information we glean from online news sites and social media?

I would be surprised if the generation that has grown up with Harry Potter, reading and re-reading the series and poring of every word, could reject reading completely. Perhaps they are tempted towards the wonder of the iPhone for a few years, but I believe they’ll be back.

While they might find what they’re after for a moment with the cheap emotional fix of an inspirational tweet, I cannot believe that they will really find what they’re looking for online.

Surely, books will continue to provide more substantial sustenance that, through the generations, so many of us have craved.

And I, for one, will be trying to read more deeply next time I pick up a book in which nothing much seems to happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Receive our latest posts

Your information will never be shared with any third parties.
Back To Top
×Close search