The slow-food movement has arisen to counter the speed and frenzy of our lives, one aspect of which is fast food. It promotes the idea that we should be more intentional about our food, where it comes from, how it is grown, how we prepare it, and ultimately how we consume it. I, for one, would like to suggest a slow-read movement that promotes an intentional, leisurely experiencing of books instead of a quick, drive-through consumption.
I fear that we have become devourers of books instead savorers. One primary standard for evaluating a book seems to be whether it creates in the reader a reflexive compulsion to turn the pages, which often means action, action, action and cliffhanger after cliffhanger after cliffhanger. Such a story exhausts me. Yes, I may keep turning the pages, but I come to resent being forced to do so. It seems gimmicky, and when I reach the end, I feel cheated because it has gone by in such a blur.
Some factors that may account for our succumbing to the lure of the fast read come to mind.
- The internet (can’t we blame everything on the internet?) which doesn’t promote sustained, thoughtful reading.
- Our consumer mindset. I finished that book; now I can move on to the next one.
- The sheer number of books out there to read. How will I get to them all if I don’t race through them?
- The pace of modern life. We don’t have or take the time for a slow read because our lives are so frenetic—our summer afternoons are no longer spacious, and the clock no longer ticks slowly in the winter evenings (to paraphrase from George Eliot’s Middlemarch).
What is sacrificed when we race through books? We miss savoring the poetic language of the story (assuming there is any to savor). When I read Far from the Madding Crowd recently, I found myself lingering over Hardy’s figurative language and descriptions. We also minimize the opportunity to allow ourselves to engage with the characters deeply enough so that when we finish the novel we’re sad to bid them farewell. When that has happened to me, I am often slow (there’s that word again) to start another novel as I am still caught up with the characters and their world. Finally, consumptive reading is not conducive to contemplating life, including one’s own, in light of the characters’ motivations and choices and the novel’s themes.
As Anne Lamott observed: “What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
So as you contemplate the stack of books you received as gifts or the ones you will buy with that gift card, I encourage you to resolve to savor the characters and worlds of the books you read in the coming year. Join the slow-read movement.