Slow News Day: The Slow Reading Movement

A University of New Hampshire English professor, a Canadian technology expert, and an Executive Editor at the Harvard University Press are all making the case for slowing down the act of reading, something people are doing more frequently in skims, quick gulps and hyper-linked transgressions.

The professor, Thomas Newkirk, encourages elementary through college students to utilize such techniques as memorizing and reading out loud to allow them to slow down and “taste” the words. John Miedema, a technology specialist at IBM in Ottawa, Ontario, whose book Slow Reading explores the movement, notes that slow reading can foster a closer connection between readers and their information.

Lindsay Waters, Executive Humanities Editor at Harvard University Press has called for no less than a “revolution in reading.” She wrote:

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.

This all sounds right to me. Reading for pleasure involves true and deep immersion in the world of a book, and, for many of us, that requires slowing down. We may need to retrain ourselves and our children to go slowly, savor, and get lost in the written word once in a while.

Read more (slowly) about Slow Reading in this overview. ADDED: Slow Reading, in Depth, with quotes from Tracy Seeley, who blogs about the Slow Movement.

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15 responses to “Slow News Day: The Slow Reading Movement

  1. We love reading out loud in our house! We find that the books read aloud have such a stronger impact, and we remember the stories so much better. The last one we enjoyed aloud was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

    • Hi Leah! It’s great to see you. I love reading out loud and being read to. I think about the way my parents talked about listening to radio shows (and the few times I’ve done that.) It really allows your imagination to open up and provide wonderful visuals and a complete world. I find that with reading, too, though sometimes I come out of the movie in my head to also appreciate a book’s language. I’d like to read or hear “Edgar Sawtelle”, too. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Huh. Interesting. I’ve always considered myself a “slow” reader and thought of it as a weakness. I’ve even worked on speed-reading several times in my life, trying to make it a new skill, talent and habit.

    I know many people, especially in the scholarly world, who read much, read quickly, seem to memorize everything they’ve ever read or seen, comprehend perfectly, and can easily find again and/or regurgitate the information at the drop of the hat. Nothing will ever convince me that those people do not possess a level of genius that I will never attain. But it is nice to know that I have permission to just sit and enjoy a book without needing to feel rushed, and that there’s value in slow reading as well.

    Do you think there’s a happy middle ground? Or a healthy mix of fast reading and slow reading?

    I heard a story once of a teenage girl who was a speed-reader. One night she started crying in the middle of dinner with her family. When asked what was wrong, she replied, “Something I read earlier this afternoon.” It took her emotions hours to catch up with what her brain had read!

  3. So so good. I’m a super fast reader but I still read slowly and immerse. If that makes sense. No, it doesn’t make sense. The ACT is slow even if my eyes are moving quickly.

  4. interesting post. thanks for putting it up. didn’t realize people were seeing the value in taking in the text, glad to see it’s happening and becoming a movement. like starving student, i am also a slow reader. professionally its a double edge sword. i like to think my comprehension is high and that i am taking the time to integrate, fully digest and contemplate what read. but i have to be choosy about what i take on, because i simply cannot read it all.

    i think slow reading causes one to filter more strongly. when you read slowly, you realize whether what you are reading is gold or dross. low quality work is meant to be skimmed and rushed through, because there’s not a lot there to take in. consequently, is it really that important to read at all? why spend the time on it?

    slow reading causes one to seek out quality work that one can savor, reread, ponder. work that inspires images and imagination.

  5. This is true and good, really helps absorb the story and get more depth. For those times when I’m absolutely wrapped up in the story and can’t wait to find out what happens next or I can’t stand it and want to be done, I usually fall back into quick reading though… I should probably change that.

  6. @jokiloki: yes, it takes much discipline to slow down through a fast moving, page turner. but i feel with books and movies, anything worth reading/seeing is worth reading/seeing multiple times to catch the nuances. one reading technique i to do a quick read first for content/overview, and then re-read to go deeper into the material.

    i tend to read a lot of technical material for my profession, and gravitate to dense material. i go slow, underlining as i read, and put many note in the margins summarizing the passages & concepts. i find the subsequent reads go much faster, even if its years later, because i have highlighted the main points and put the concepts in my own words. on the subsequent reads i gain a much deeper understanding of the material, theory and concepts.

    if a book or movie is merely plot driven, so that it’s no longer interesting on subsequent visits, then i would argue its not worth the first read. if there are no nuances or deeper ideas to revisit and ponder, then why bother with it at all?

  7. Warm greetings to Starving Student Survivor, Susan, Kath and Jokiloki! (I’m sorry I don’t know some of your names — I poked around your wonderful blogs for them ..)

    You all bring up excellent, heartfelt points about reading. I suppose there are at least two kinds of reading – that done for sheer pleasure and immersion, and that done to gain knowledge, professional or otherwise. (Lots of pleasure reading is knowledge-based, too. That’s why I threw that “professional” caveat in.)

    I’m all for both, especially if the stuff you have to read can be absorbed quickly enough to allow you to get what you need out of it and move on to a more luxurious, imaginative, language-rich, absorbing, rewarding experience!

    I do think that, culturally, there is great importance placed on doing and achieving. For instance, it can be valuable to have a goal of reading a certain amount in a period of time if it gets you to read the written word, but it can also be valuable to remember to take your time, that reading, especially that done for pleasure, isn’t a race, but an experience.

    A lot of us, especially those who are involved with the internet and its quick bits of information and wonderful digressions, may have to retrain ourselves to slowly sit and savor the written word on the page. I know that to some degree, I do! (Though I read things at very different rates, too, depending on the kind of work and the kind of time I want to spend with it. Kath brings up the plot-driven, perhaps typically known as a “beach read”. Those might be quicker reads by design.)

    Still others might read once for comprehension (perhaps plot), another time around to immerse in language .. there could be lots of methods out there. I’d love to hear about them. It occurs to me that reading is something we do a lot of without necessarily discussing the act.

  8. “Still others might read once for comprehension (perhaps plot), another time around to immerse in language…”

    That’d be me. I love plot, I like to get to action. Also, in grade school, the teachers placed a premium on reading quickly and because I was good at that, it felt “right.”

    Am slowing down now– age, maybe?–so this “slow reading” stuff sounds good.

  9. i was reflecting on this conversation yesterday and got to thinking: what about slow speech? so many people engage in a yackety-yak rapid speech style. i believe many of them think quite rapidly and their speech is being fired from there quick thoughts.

    i was at a dharma talk at a zen temple sunday, and noticed how slowly the priest spoke. this is typical in the Buddhist tradition. he gave everyone a chance to hear and absorb his words, thoughts and ideas he presented. not at all a word feeding frenzy. it was refreshing.

    anyone aware of any kind of a movement in slow speech? Buddhists allow people to fully articulate their thoughts without interruption. it makes one keenly aware of what s/he is saying: am i rambling? or am i saying something worthwhile and worth full attention.

    it seems like in our mtv/addh world slow speech could be a refreshing gift. to really listen to one another, and ourselves, rather than merely getting one’s sound bite out as quickly as possible, before someone changes the channel.

  10. Hi Pamela and Kath!

    Pamela, I believe this is your first comment here. I’m thrilled that you visited.

    I love this meaty discussion. You both bring up excellent points — about the (perhaps) age-related desire to slow down and appreciate acts, beauty and much else, and about speech being another area in which we could all use a slow-down.

    Kath, that’s very interesting about Buddhists allowing the time and space for people to fully complete their thoughts — perhaps, in that case, both the speaker and the listener can actually luxuriate. It seems that in our culture, interruption is extremely common, as is a kind of elliptical, rapid-fire speech, and flitting from topic to topic — some of this may be due to fear of being interrupted oneself or a kind of half-listening for the break to say something, instead of truly engaging with the words.

    I think you’re on to something with the “sound bite” idea. I’m with you that we need a Slow Speech movement — it’s probably more crucial than reading, as it impacts our ability to have deep relationships and meaningful conversation.

  11. Interesting! I read a LOT (dozen books/week usually) and the more I am “into” a book, the faster I go, and I can often finish a whole novel in one night! I don’t think I could pay *more* attention trying to slow down, it would distract me until I couldn’t focus or have a continuous thought. I don’t think we control how fast we read.

    Now, speech, yes…thinking before you blurt, giving another person room to finish their thought, etc. probably does contribute to more conscious exchanges. I don’t like to talk much, but when I do I hate when I am rushed or not listened to! :)

  12. Hi Denise! Great to see you. Thank you for reminding us that we may all naturally read at different speeds. For some of us, slowing down, in reading and in other things, might lead to greater consciousness. But still others might already be doing something at the correct pace for them. It sounds like you’re already reading at maximum consciousness and enjoyment. That’s so great.

    I’m glad you wrote about speech, too. I always figure that people who don’t talk as much should really be listened to when they do speak — I would have even thought that that would naturally occur. I also hate to be rushed, interrupted or not listened to. I try to consciously listen to others and pull myself back if I find myself not doing so for some reason.

  13. So happy to find your blog! The link to the AP article no longer works; you might find this article on Slow Reading in the Guardian interesting (disclaimer: I’m quoted in it):

  14. Hi Tracy! I’m so glad you found my blog and added the link to the Guardian article, which covers Slow Reading more deeply than the previous article had. I will add it to the links on this post (and correct the other one – thank you.)

    I’m also thrilled to know about your thoughtful blog and work. We’re obviously continuing down a similar Slow path, thinking and writing about a lot of the same things. I hope we stay in touch.

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