Slow Reading

As is often the case, I have two books on the go at once, and these particular books, more than any two I’ve read together in some time, are a dichotomy in subject, in writing style, and in thematic material.

The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit, is the kind of book that invites slow reading, practically begging the reader to stop and re-read a paragraph or a line, swirl it around in your mind like an oenophile would do with a sip of fine Burgundy. It invites reflection, it sets the mind racing in a kaleidoscope of directions. There are only a handful of writers who can do this, can pull the reader up short so they must stop, go back, say to themselves “Let me try that part again.”

And then there is the other book (which will remain unnamed at the moment because it is a book for eventual review), a novel with stock characters, choppy sentences, hackneyed descriptions – no slow reading here. On the contrary, I find myself reading this one as quickly as possible, speeding through the pages in the same way I drive on the expressway, barely noticing the surroundings just getting from one place to the other as fast as possible.

But there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? Sometimes we need a way to get from place to place quickly and efficiently, without a lot of moodling in between. Sometimes it’s the middle of the night and we need to be distracted from the myriad of heavy thoughts that have disrupted our sleep. Sometimes we’re just relaxing by the pool and want to be entertained by a story.  Other times, on a fresh new morning with our minds and bodies refreshed, we want to be stimulated, want to challenge our thoughts, want to meander along the back roads stopping at interesting little villages along the way.

In our Reading Life, just like Life in General, we need a variety of choices, a balance of experiences, to round us out and make us whole.

Here’s a passage from Solnit’s book that I read this morning. She’s talking about Mary Shelley, and Frankenstein

In the years she gave birth to all those too-mortal children, she also created a work of art that yet lives, a monster of sorts in its depth of horror, and a beauty in the strength of its vision and its acuity in describing the modern world that in 1816 was just emerging. This is the strange life of books that you enter alone as a writer, mapping an unknown territory that arises as you travel. If you succeed in the voyage, others enter after, one at a time, also alone, but in communion with your imagination, traversing your route. Books are solitudes in which we meet.

Entering into communion with a writer’s imagination is always a fascinating adventure, especially when a writer leads you – compels you, even – to take the slow road and savor the journey.

45 thoughts on “Slow Reading

  1. Becca, I LOVE “The Faraway Nearby.” I’m about to give it a second read. I think it’s a book you and read over and over again and discover something new each time. And you are right, it is a slow read and not one you’d get much out of if you tried it sitting at the pool.

    • I had never read any of her books before, but I’m finding so much to ponder in this one. You’re right, it is definitely one that bears re-reading. I have a feeling that it could offer very different insights depending on the reader’s life circumstances at the time.

  2. It’s funny, I started an advanced copy of The Faraway Nearby a few months ago and I reread the first two pages about 15 times and thought…this book must not be for me. You’ve reminded me there is a time and place for that kind of slow, reflective read. Maybe I’ll find the right time soon.

    • Maybe it was your hormonal condition at the time! lol
      About midway through my pregnancy, I went on a bender reading the Classics – Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Thomas Hardy – but in the early days it was all I could do to read the comic strips in the newspaper.

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  4. I went to a reading of hers her in Dublin back in may and it was fascinating … sadly I still haven’t gotten around to reading it so savour away and I will too … one day when the stack of books beside my bed has disappeared

  5. I find my ability to read slowly as gone with the increase in my age. I want to get to the punchline. I read the first chapter and then go straight to the last pages in the book to see how it turns out. I know this is wrong but I am now impatient; I hope people do not want to do this with my work but then I do not do enough flushing out my characters and background scenery. If you like to give my book on a serial killer a read just let me know and I will send my fellow blogger the first half. I would be interested in seeing what you think of my work, Sincerely Barry

  6. I’m so excited that retirement is coming soon and I will be able to read. With an extra long holiday weekend, I powered through two books and felt so happy, just to sit and read. Slow reading? I like it — Fast reading works, too!

  7. Slow reads are not usual fare when it comes to books! They usually hold too many descriptive words and the sentences usually have twice as many words to get the same point across as a short one. Kind of like going to an old Catholic Church 11 AM wedding with a Mass.. it lasts for one and a half hours and usually makes my eyes roll up into the top of my head as I doze off. I can go to a nice short 1/2 hour wedding at a Methodist church if I’m invited! Not that I am very often! LOL

  8. Love the post! 😀 I love to read both fast and slow reads. But more often then not I find myself reading the fast ones. 🙂

  9. Great post– I never really thought about it before, how some books read fast (Mary Higgins Clark comes to mind) and others beg you to slow down, and re-read passages.
    Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  10. I totally agree!!! Though I seldom read 2 books at the same time… I don’t stick to a certain genre. I do love books that are insightful and make you pause and re-read the lines. But I also love fast-paced, relaxing ones and I find that many of the free books from Amazon belong to this category 🙂

  11. I could relate to this very well. After having read one book at a time for most of life, I’ve found these days that I’m too restless to get to the end of a one-at-a-time book and I get a little tired of its voice, its tone. But now I read two books at once, alternating between them–usually a serious piece of non-fiction along with an action thriller–and it works out very well.

  12. Although for some reason I cannot read quickly, I do find myself pressing on with any book currently occupying me, like a traveller with a lot of ground to cover. It’s rare that I allow myself to savour a paragraph as if it’s a fine wine (to borrow your analogy). I think it’s to do with the knowledge that there are so many books I want to read, and not enough years in my life to read them all, especially as so many new ones are published all the time – not even if I live to be 120 and still have good eyesight.

  13. Reading is a pleasure that I miss. I find myself ” driving” that highway needing to just arrive. it pains me that I don’t have the time to savor every word and detail like before…

  14. A month ago, as I was listening to an examination of early Quaker writers and their use of Biblical language, I marveled at the richness of their expression and its deeply personal, intimate experience. I kept asking myself if we today have anything to equal that. Then, overhearing others’ reactions, I realized how alien much of our literary tradition is even to many well educated readers. Consider Samuel Johnson, for instance, or Milton.
    Slow Reading now strikes me along the lines of Slow Food. A movement, maybe?

  15. I find myself rushing to get things done so often its ridiculous, well people get a laugh out of it, sometimes the slow road eludes my seeking to find my way. Thanks for the very eloquently written reminder, I must take the reader down the slow road.

  16. You are absolutely right. Infact slow books are the ones which force you to think twice. Sometimes the writer is even able to enable to look at your own life differently. This thing is very prevalent in self help books.

  17. I agree wholeheartedly with you, and I offer an additional perspective. I enjoy audiobooks at two speeds too – standard and double speed. Strangely, double speed is still perfectly understandable. Some books are worth lingering over, and others, which might be read for perfectly good reasons, are to be ‘got through’.

  18. You might be interested in a book I read for a book club recently. Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer is all about slowing down to savor the craft that goes into a book. When you think of all the time and energy someone puts into writing, it’s the least we can do as readers.

  19. Weirdly, slow reading for me happens first thing in the morning. I can knock the coffee grounds from the machine, trip over my slippers but somehow I can manage to savor a good book. It’s just a pity that I don’t have more time!

  20. Really enjoyed reading your post. I’m a reader of books and I like to read two books at a time especially if both books falls along the line of development and growth.

  21. I’ve just started writing about books and reading and appreciated your thoughts on reading slowly. Sometimes reading aloud, when no one is around to think I’m nuts is a way to savor how good authors use words. I also appreciated your comment that some books should be read quickly!

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  23. Great post! I generally read slowly, so I really liked the commentary on this book. And I loved the last part, about the us readers having communion with the writer’s imagination. It’s a beautiful way to illustrate our reading experience.

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