Ours is an age of digital distraction and information overload. As former Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin notes, we are developing shorter attention spans that make it increasingly difficult to read those old-fashioned objects called books.

Ulin argues that reading is more necessary today than ever before. A book, he says, isn't just a collection of data we scroll through. To engage with a book means inhabiting both the story and the world view of its author; it's an act of transcending. That's the opposite of "instant messaging."

Ulin describes his own passionate engagement with books such as "The Great Gatsby" and "Ulysses." What he celebrates about reading is its interiority, the way it serves as a kind of inner, intimate form of communication between writer and reader.

"Perhaps most important," Ulin notes, "there is the way reading requires us to pay attention, which cannot help but return us to the realm of inner life."

Yet Ulin understands that digital advances like e-books could change the reading experience for the better. He learns from his son Noah about a Facebook page that celebrates "The Great Gatsby" and is bowled over by the enthusiasm of the posts.

Ulin ends by describing the singular magic of reading the last pages of "Gatsby": "I find myself in the thrall of that interior communion, as Fitzgerald inhabits me and I animate him."

Reading Ulin's book provides all the pleasures of a far-ranging conversation with someone who loves books as he loves life itself. Ulin believes that books will survive because we need them in order to know our deepest selves.