I am a slow reader. I don’t have a diagnosis that I know of to make me feel better. I wish I could tell you I suffer from dyslexia or ADHD, because those things would give meaning to my lagging.
I have no excuses.
I’m just a slow reader.
It seems no one reads slowly anymore. Every week I see a new article about how many hundreds of books some reader has gone through in a year — so many books that they have to document them on Excel spreadsheets rather than in their head.
That’s great for those particular types of readers. I’m sure those readers feel a certain sense of pride when they meet someone like me, whose list is marginal in comparison to theirs. As readers, we aren’t even on the same plane if you equate being a good reader with being quick. I’m sure they surge with pride when they realize they’ve out read everyone they know.
So why don’t I join the quick readers in the numbers game? Is it because I’m incapable of reading quickly? Is it because I need a technique book on how to skim the pages?
No, I can skim just fine. I am, after all, adept at skimming articles on the Internet like everyone else these days. I don’t rush through a laundry list of novels every year because it sounds tedious. It sounds like a chore.
More importantly, I like wandering through a novel. I like the slow turn of a page. I like to reread sentences that are full of poetry and highlight them and read them again, taking them in deeply like the smell of citrus blossoms or the salty ocean air.
For me, slow reading is enjoyable. It’s like wandering through the wilderness, taking in the overlooked details of the landscape and wildlife. I like to think of my slow reading pace as a way to take more in, just like Edward Abbey romanticizes walking through national parks (as opposed to driving) in Desert Solitaire: “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” For me, slow reading is all about experiencing more and memorizing the landscape of the narrative.
Slow reading is also a way to put the focus back on the art of a meandering through a story. If there’s a passage I love or a character I identify with, I want to spend time with them.
I can’t pull myself away as quickly as others because I know what’s on the other end of a finished novel: The absence of the world I was just involved in.
I’m not saying slow reading is for everyone, but the benefits of reading slowly are well documented. Benefits like reducing stress, deepening our ability to think and listen, and even increased levels of concentration. There’s even a slow reading movement springing up around the world, where groups of readers are settling into comfy chairs with books sans electronic devices to pull away from the noise and dive into the rabbit hole of a good book. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “[slow reading] movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.”
Even educators are making a case for slow reading. Thomas Newkirk, a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, argues the case and explores “what we miss when we define good reading as fast reading” in his article “The Case for Slow Reading.” Instead, Newkirk argues for “dwelling” in the texts we read.
“Dwelling” makes sense to a reader like me. It’s not escapism, as some would argue. It’s settling into a more familiar, and even intimate, place with a text. Books become cozy and familiar, like home, when you read slowly. Slow reading creates a sense of comfort, or for the most intimate texts, it creates a sacred space, similar to being immersed in the act of meditation and mindfulness. Reading, “slow reading” in particular, can become an act of mindfulness, creating a path to creative thinking.
This might be why educators like Newkirk claim that slow reading is the one true way to “savor” or taste the text. Mulling around passages in the mind is akin to enjoying food completely. Slow reading allows us to enjoy, and even carry passes with us close to our heart.
So for those of us who get caught up in a single sentence — who like to see more, feel more, and enjoy more in our books — know that you’re not alone. Reading slowly doesn’t make you a bad reader; reading slowly just means you don’t discard the words in a text after flipping the page. It means you cherish the act of a slow read and all the perks that go along with it.
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