Slow reading: The best way to make reading fun again.
Ever notice how an idea seldom gets traction until someone slaps it with a snappy name? Take “slow reading,” — formerly known as “immersive reading,” “close reading, “deep reading,” or just plain “reading,” it’s been around since Gilgamesh was a boy.
But now, thanks to the ever hastening pace of modern life, it’s a movement.
The Associated Press reports that Thomas Newkirk, an English professor at the University of New Hampshire, is the latest educator to tout the so-called “slow reading movement” as a way to help students improve their comprehension, concentration and, oh, by the way, pleasure.
Newkirk, who apparently knows how to give good sound bite, says today’s students approach reading the way they do burgers and fries in a fast-food restaurant.
“One student told me even when he was reading a regular book, he’d come to a word and it would almost act like a hyper link. It would just send his mind off to some other thing,” Newkirk said. “I think they recognize they’re missing out on something.”
But Newkirk doesn’t lay all the blame on the Internet and digital media, which strongly encourages fast and superficial reading.
“You see schools where reading is turned into a race, you see kids on the stopwatch to see how many words they can read in a minute,” he said. “That tells students a story about what reading is. It tells students to be fast is to be good.”
But in my experience it’s not just students who could benefit by slow reading. Indeed, the idea of intentionally slowing down as a way to increase comprehension, concentration and pleasure has no meaning until something has encouraged us, frog-in-the-boiling-pot style, to gradually speed our reading.
And I want to emphasize the pleasure part of this equation. As a professional book critic and lifelong reader, I’ve always argued for what might be called the “hedonistic principle of reading:” The only reason to read books is for the immense and unique pleasure of it all. Reading is fun.
Newkirk isn’t the only advocate of slow reading, nor the first. In his 1994 book, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, literary critic Sven Birkerts used the term “deep reading,” and predicted digital media would destroy it. (In an irony almost too rich to be borne, The Gutenberg Elegies is now available at Google Books).
In 2004, Canadian journalist Carl Honore published In Praise of Slowness, a manifesto against speed in life, industry and culture that includes slow reading. Lindsay Waters, executive humanities editor at Harvard University Press, identifies “a worldwide reading crisis.”
“Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words,” Waters wrote in a 2007 article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
John Miedema is both an IT architect for IBM and the author of Slow Reading, published last year. He’s a thoughtful commentator on the intersection between the traditional values of slow reading and the usefulness of digital technology (check out his blog).
“It’s not just about students reading as slowly as possible,” he said. “To me, slow reading is about bringing more of the person to bear on the book.”
And to me it’s about bringing more of the book –its rhythm, its story, its subtexts, both intentional and serendipitous –to bear on the person. That can only happen if I read slowly, giving myself over to a book.
Fast reading has its place — at work, on the Internet (get off as soon as you can!), sometimes with newspapers and magazines. But a book deserves your full attention, and you deserve the fruits that can only ripen when you give it.