Last week, I wrote about how I’m trying to read more slowly, in order to savor what I’m reading.
Today, I thought I would go into more detail on how to read slowly.
It’s not just a matter of moving your eyes across the page more gradually, focusing on ever individual word. Indeed, as Peter Mendelsund points out in What We See When We Read, our speed of reading varies naturally throughout a book:
We gulp words and phrases when we read quickly, but we may also choose to savor some texts, and roll them on our tongues (96).
This is natural, and a skilled author will write his or book so as to invite both experiences, just as some kinds of food lend themselves to gulping (a cheap candy bar, for instance) and others to savoring (such as fine chocolate). A great meal might begin with bread and soup fit for munching, progress to an entree worth savoring, and then finish with a dessert that invites both.
It’s not as simple as just reading the whole text slowly, then, but more about a state of mind, about a general approach.
Mendelsund compares this to driving different kinds of roads:
If books were roads, some would be made for driving quickly–details appear scant, and what details there are appear drab–but the velocity and torque of the narrative is exhilarating. Some books, if seen as roads, would be made for walking–the trajectory of the road mattering far less than the vistas these roads might afford. The best book for me: I drive through it quickly but am forced to stop on occasion, to pull over and marvel. These are books meant to be reread (96).
This is why it’s important to read different kinds of books. Lately, I’ve tried to alternate between reading something quick and easy to digest (such as A Walk in the Woods) and something that takes savoring and re-reading (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, for instance). For me, this strikes a pleasant balance between challenging and relaxing my mind.
As I think about it, it seems that we can define slow reading more by what it is not than what it is.
Slow reading is not the way you read when you cram for a quiz right before class. It’s not the way you skim a boring textbook. It’s not the way you glance at the news or scroll through Buzz Feed.
It’s a state of mind.
And it invites a way of being. A way of thinking. A way of living.
So give it a try.
And try not to rush.
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