Drawing on research from her previous book, Proust and the Squid, Wolf considers the future of the reading brain and its capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection in today's highly digitized world.
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 ... She’s also correct that we have a lot to lose—all of us—if we don’t pay attention to what we’re doing with technology and what it’s doing to us.
Research suggests that widespread use of digital technology is eroding our deep reading abilities, our attention, our memory and our general cognitive capabilities. Wolf’s book is one of the most comprehensive looks to date at exactly how and why this is happening, what we can do to stop it, and how she envisions reversing these effects in the next generation ... Wolf is a lovely prose writer who draws not only on research but also on a broad range of literary references, historical examples and personal anecdotes. The strongest parts of Reader, Come Home are her moving accounts of why reading matters, and her deeply detailed exploration of how the reading brain is being changed by screens ... On an individual level, Wolf’s solutions, like 20-minute reading workouts, can be heartening ... Her templates do implicitly rely on parents having a certain amount of time, education and income that will allow them to be deeply involved in curating their child’s diet of digital devices and books. Still, they feel like a start. She does address digital access gaps and issues of global literacy, too, but it is here that the narrative begins to feel a bit muddled. Wolf’s society-level solutions seem like wishful thinking, considering our political system and landscape ... As well as anyone, Wolf makes a strong case for what we lose when we lose reading.
Reader, Come Home’s chapters are written in the form of letters—Wolf’s attempt to strike an intimate tone—but for all her adoration of literature, this is a writer who lives most of her professional life in the realm of academia and policymaking, an environment that has left its mark on her prose. Her sentences sometimes resemble a stand full of broken umbrellas through which the reader must forage in search of a workable statement ... In her defense...Wolf is a serious scholar genuinely trying to make the world a better place. Reader, Come Home is full of sound, if hardly revelatory, advice for parents...and considered policy recommendations ... But if Wolf is impassioned about the importance of deep reading, she doesn’t always seem fully cognizant of the forces arrayed against it. She seems to be responding to the digital culture of nearly a decade ago ... It would be nice if Wolf caught up with the times and stopped fretting about e-books and the notion that they inhibit this kind of immersion. Perhaps the answer to Wolf’s worries is neither so complicated nor so apocalyptic as technology’s champions and Cassandras have made it out to be, but largely a matter of willpower and common sense. Most adults do know what’s good for them.