Does the world need an app that breaks down novels into bite-sized chunks? Is this fast reading or slow reading?
Independent bookstores are doing better these days. Turns out people want real books made of paper and ink. And they cherish local shops. The Slow Books movement cometh?
Remember that old Woody Allen joke? “I took a speed reading course. We read War and Peace. It’s about Russia.”
Sounds horribly familiar, doesn’t it? These days we skim through thousands of words a day at high speed. But how much of that ‘reading’ do we actually take in? Or enjoy?
The bottom line is that faster isn’t always better. You don’t gulp down a glass of fine wine. You don’t put Mozart on fast-forward. Sure, there are times when whizzing through a piece of text is the only option. Or maybe even the best option: I certainly don’t linger over the prose in the free newspaper on the Tube. But surely Tolstoy deserves a bit more of our attention.
That’s why the Slow Reading Movement is gaining ground.
Wow. Last night I finished reading to my children the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. What an odyssey – 3,407 pages in all. We must have started two years ago, and we read other books along the way, but Harry Potter was always there, a fellow traveller on this leg of their journey through childhood. When we started out, my daughter couldn’t read. Last night she was peering over my shoulder trying to see what was going to happen next with Lord Voldemort before I got there. Reading seems to me the ultimate act of slow. At a time when so much reading involves skimming bite-sized chunks, it is a relief and joy to tackle a very long work that repays the investment of time and attention so handsomely. I wouldn’t read Harry Potter to myself but I loved reading it to my kids. I hope the three of us will always remember those long hours spent huddled together on beds, in tents, in airplanes, by the beach, in forests, even in the car while stuck in traffic jams listening to the story unfold, slowly but surely. The question now is what big book to read next. My son is lobbying for the Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings. My daughter thinks there will be more princesses in the Narnia Chronicles. Any suggestions welcome…
I love that Woody Allen joke where he says: “I took a speed reading course. We read War and Peace. It’s about Russia.” So much of the beauty, texture and meaning of a text gets lost when we read in a hurry. And that may be why Slow reading is in the ascendant. Toning down the speed means you get more pleasure and comprehension from the text. Apparently the earliest reference to slow reading is from Nietzsche in 1887. ClickHEREto read a fascinating and thoughtful Wikipedia entry on the subject. It was notwritten by me.
Argentina is one of the countries where In Praise of Slow has made a big splash. In the last few months I’ve twice been to Buenos Aires (my home in the early 1990s) to do television, radio and other interviews. In fact, I even sang a little ditty from the old days on national TV – long story . Anyway, a few moments ago my publisher sent me a photo from the latest incarnation of Big Brother Argentina. It shows two contestants. One is a bkini-clad bottle-blonde smoking a cigarette – very Buenos Aires. The other is a dashing young man with long curly hair – also very Buenos Aires. The guy is clutching a Spanish copy of In Praise of Slow. I’m not a big fan of Big Brother in any language but somehow this photo makes my day. I won’t dwell too long on why that is. But here’s a thought: Is life in a Big Brother house an example of good slow or bad slow?
Don’t be alarmed by the time on this blog entry. I am in London and it is the middle of the night but this nocturnal burst of writing is not the beginning of a descent into workaholism. I’m just jet-lagged. We returned yesterday from a long (and very happy) holiday in Canada and my body is still on Prairie time. So rather than toss and turn for hours on end, I figured I’d start on one of my resolutions for 2007: to spend more time with my blog. The first observation of the new year comes from our journey home. Two years ago I wrote a long piece about the joys of Slow for EnRoute, the inflight magazine of Air Canada. This month, EnRoute has a cover story entitled “Why Fast Is Good” or “Éloge De La Vitesse.” It’s a hymn to the joys of speed. The writer starts off lamenting that “Slow gets all the buzz” and then goes on to sing the praises of taking a high-velocity approach to everything from the arts to food to exercise. The paradox, of course, is that the whole feature is just further proof that the Slow movement is on the rise and that the forces of speed are on the defensive. And not surprisingly much of what EnRoute says makes sense. Just as there are moments that call for slowness, there are also times when switching into hare mode is the best policy. In fact, some of the pro-speed trends touted by EnRoute sound perfectly reasonable to me – high-quality fast-food and environmentally-friendly hybrid cars with a bit of oomph are two that spring to mind. Then again, others sound just downright silly. A drive-thru art exhibition, anyone?