Inviting Readers to Slow Their Pace in a Digital World

I’ve read many educational books throughout my forty plus years as a teacher. I have learned so much from other teachers, writers, and researchers.  I’ve taken what I’ve read and applied it to my classroom practice and my work mentoring other teachers.  Sometimes, I come across a book that literally takes the top of my head off!  The ideas are so innovative and complex that I am totally stunned and need to slow down my pace and deeply consider what the author is communicating.  Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf is this kind of book.  Wolf’s previous book was Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, which tackled the history of written language and how this human invention has changed throughout the years and how this related to how best to support children with dyslexia.  Wolf is currently director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA.

Each chapter in Reader, Come Home is written as a letter to readers describing various aspects of how our reading brains are evolving in the face of technology.  Wolf expresses complex information in a personal way.  She begins with a brief history of how reading has changed, explains the neuroscience behind the reading process in an easy to understand and visual way, and she gives much thought to how adults can raise competent readers in a frenzied digital reading world. Wolf explores the nature of reading in light of increasing human dependence on digital technologies and artificial intelligence.  She expresses the need for children to develop critical thinking skills, background knowledge, and empathy for cultural differences (becoming the other).  These skills require reflection or what Wolf calls “cognitive patience.” What emerges from this type of close reading comes more questioning and wondering, which generates new perspectives and creative thought. It is slow but not stagnant. It is an intensively active reflection that leads to great insight. It is imperative that readers’ focus and attention need to be honed first in order for them to successfully navigate the frenetic, digital landscape.

I love how Wolf makes seamless connections between technology, neuroscience, physics, history, literature and philosophy.  At times, I had to pause and reread, just as Wolf invites us to do in order to cultivate a bilateral reading brain that can tackle both slow-paced, old school paper texts and fast-paced digital texts.  Wolf’s hope is for a world of readers who are curious, contemplative, and compassionate.  That is my hope too.  This is an important book that deserves a slow and careful read.