In Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (Harper, Aug.), neuroscientist Wolf examines the effects of digital media on how we read and think.
Your book is written as a series of letters to readers. What was your reasoning behind the epistolary format?
I realized that a lot of readers are going to not only disagree with me but also have perspectives that differ greatly from my own. The letter format provides an opportunity for the reader to see this is a dialogue. Thomas Aquinas once said that iron sharpens iron, and that’s really what I was trying to do with the letter format. I want my thoughts to be an incentive for the reader to give his or her own thoughts. After I wrote Proust and the Squid, I received truly hundreds of letters—I’m still receiving them—and the letters that I wrote back helped me formulate my thinking around things I know are important to others.
Do you see your call for more contemplation and reflection through reading as being related to other cultural phenomena, like the slow food movement?
We’re in what Robert Darnton calls a “hinge moment,” so we’re talking about a cultural shift as well as a communicative shift. Inevitably, there will be many aspects of culture that would benefit from a more reflective or contemplative approach to them. But I’m by no means saying that everything is about slowing down; rather it’s about choice: how we use reading in this really important moment. We need to discern what it is that requires reflection in our lives and in what we read and how we read it.
What surprised you over the course of researching this book?
I never thought that a reading researcher and cognitive neuroscientist would have a thing to say about democracy. But by writing this book, and looking at the research on the decline of empathy and critical analysis, and seeing what’s happening to all of us—the siloing of people and perspectives—I am convinced that this work has important implications for democracy as well as political science.
Do you care if people read Reader, Come Home in an e-book format?
I’m prepared for that. For Proust and the Squid, I didn’t allow it to be an e-book until recently. And there’s no question that I would prefer people read this one in a [print book format]. But if it’s e-book versus no book, then of course, read it as an e-book. Mainly I want people to be aware of the differences and be able to use that information to help them live their best lives.