Slow Reader

Young Girl Reading a Book on the Beach by Picasso
I’m a slow reader.

Everyone in my critique group knows it, because I’m always the one still reading when everyone finally gives up on me and starts talking – and that’s me trying to read fast. I do usually manage to finish the story under discussion, comment and scribble a few notes before we move on to the next one.

Reading fast is a useful skill, and I’ve worked on improving my speed, without, I’m afraid, much success. Compared with speedy readers, I’ll never be well read. I’ve given up on the dream of being a prolific reader. Even without the distractions of job and family, it is unlikely that I will ever devour an epic novel in a week or a series in a month. I have never read the whole back catalog of any of my favorite authors, as much as I would like to.

Instead I content myself with reading deeply. Turns out slow reading is a thing, proven by the fact that Wikipedia has an entry for it. It’s because I love reading so much that I tend to wallow around in whatever is in front of my eyeballs.

What I’m reading today.

Reading isn’t a linear process for me. Some of that is just me being highly distractable, but often I’m slowed down by the crowd of thoughts and connections that my brain is making with the text as I wade through it. I double back and circle around, covering and recovering the ground I just crossed to reaffirm a tangential link to something I read somewhere else, or to just savor a beautiful phrase.

This is why I  love poetry. Slow and repeated readings reveal layers of insight and meaning as well as beauty. Subvocalizing (hearing a voice in your head while you read, which is discouraged if you want to read fast) is good, vocalizing is even better. If you want to really read a poem, read it out loud.

Patrick Kingsley at the Guardian talks about how the Internet has effected our reading habits in general and Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows in particular in his article The Art of Slow Reading

“The words of the writer act as a catalyst in the mind of the reader, inspiring new insights, associations, and perceptions, sometimes even epiphanies.” And, perhaps even more significantly, it is only through slow reading that great literature can be cultivated in the future. As Carr writes, “the very existence of the attentive, critical reader provides the spur for the writer’s work. It gives the author the confidence to explore new forms of expression, to blaze difficult and demanding paths of thought, to venture into uncharted and sometimes hazardous territory.”

Books like The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and the The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age are less about reading slowly and more concerned with the cultural impact of the electronic age and the sea of information that the wired elite swim in. There’s a lot of talk about how all this fast and careless reading degrades the way we think. But, to me, these arguments often start to sound a little henny penny the sky is falling. While I may have a hard time reading fast, we can all chose to read slowly.

And the Internet is a great place to read fast. I don’t linger over instruction manuals either. I’ll even jog through a good popcorn novel with all the alacrity I can muster, but mostly I read slow because it’s my default setting. Like the philosophy behind the The Soup Peddler’s Slow and Difficult Soups: Recipes and Reveries, I want a challenge when I read, a depth of experience that cannot be achieved quickly – a rich stew. 

To read is to cross time and receive the world through the strange and archaic words, to struggle up a long hill and arrive at a new vista of understanding, to scale and plumb the topography of emotion. Most of all, I love the feeling of epiphany when reading, and you don’t get epiphany skimming.

Man reading a book

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