I wonder how many value the benefits of slow reading? I don’t imagine any author writes for speed-readers. If I am correct in this assumption, I am the writer’s dream audience.
I grew up with a learning disability, which made reading and writing a mad challenge in my early years. Reading aloud was unthinkable. My primary school teachers would be shocked to learn that I had grown up to write and record spoken word essays.
I would offer that my difficulties as a child led me to the practice of careful reading, which eventually led me to the implementation of painstaking writing.
Being a slow reader can make one very choosey over one’s reading material. Take beach reading, for instance; if you find it shallow at a run, imagine taking it at a crawl.
When I was in my early twenties, through with school and able to have full control over my reading, I chose to read the classics. If I was going to plod, I would plod through the dense forest of the writings of the nineteenth century. I began with the novels of Charles Dickens, taking each one at a graduation march pace. I read everything Mr. Dickens wrote, and some two and three times over. His novel Domby and Son is one that I read every decade. I move through it at a geriatric stroll, circling certain paragraphs for long stretches, head down, hands clasped behind my back, musing, rereading, reflecting.
“Damn,” I will pause, pick up my head, “that was a grand sentence!” After which I stare off into space for a time, chewing on the thing. I ruminate for another little while, and revisit the paragraph for another go at it. A nine-hundred-page novel will occupy half a year at such a saunter. Glorious!
Apparently E.B. White was a slow reader, of course he was. A painter doesn’t dash through the Louvre, taking in as many paintings as she can, to learn how to paint. An architect doesn’t drive through a city to learn how to construct a building. One well-written book, carefully circled, is worth one hundred at a forced run.
Of course, slow reading isn’t ideal for every occasion. It isn’t recommended for standardized testing, for example, or reading signs from passing cars.
Once, in the aftermath of one of our country’s far too frequent mass shootings, I was in the passenger seat next to my husband.
“Oh, my God, what has this country come to!” I puffed. “We’ve gone mad!’
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“That sign we just passed!”
“What about it?”
“Inviting us to a firearms festival! What could possibly go on at a firearms festival?! I shudder to think!”
My husband turned to me, incredulous.
“The sign. It said Fireman’s Festival.”
Still, I believe that the benefits of slow reading outweigh the drawbacks. And, the happy news is, anyone can practice it. It doesn’t have to come naturally. You can start today!
Choose a beloved book, or one that you suspect might grow to be beloved, and slowly, carefully begin to read. Pour over each sentence. Like meditation, try and keep your mind in focus, and if it wanders, gently bring it back. Stroll through the first page as if entering a garden in full summer for the first time, eager to take in each flower of a phrase, each petal of a word. Lean in and study, straighten up and reflect. Do this for as long as you can sustain the intensity of single-minded attention, and then put the beloved down. At this point you might indulge in a few moments of musing before you drift off to sleep, or go about your day.
You won’t regret the effort, or the time spent. Something inside you will shift, breathe deeply and exhale.
“Ah,” you will sigh, “now this is a book for slow reading.”