Slow Reading

'The wind is almost due west now,' he told Stephen, returning from one of these tours, very near the night's end: but Stephen was asleep, bowed in an elbow-chair, his head moving with the roll and pitch of the ship, and she racing through the blackness with him.
The image of Stephen Maturin, asleep in an armchair, as the HMS Bellona bowled along in the night, deaf to his friend Commodore Jack Aubrey's observation, woke me up. I had been skimming, following the narrative with little real attention, and now I was there in the cabin with Stephen and Jack. Jack's squadron, having made a show of intercepting slave traders off the coast of Africa, raced now through dirty weather to accomplish its real mission, to prevent a French invasion of Ireland.

A handful of times over the years, library patrons have told me of their capacity for speed-reading. They would finish reading the novel they were borrowing in a single night. I have never said anything, but I always wondered why they thought this was a good thing. I could understand speed-reading a textbook, if time was short.

We hear about the virtues of "slow food", meals cooked at home from whole, unprocessed ingredients. I would like to recommend "slow reading", a thorough chewing of texts. When I lose the thread of the narrative, I try to back up to where I lost it and read it over. When I read a word I do not know, I try to make myself look it up.

I don't much care for audio books. I tried a couple, but I feel as though I am being marched relentlessly along. When I read a text, I am always paging back to see how the narrative makes sense. I guess it's just a matter of temperament.

(This post edited 8/15 for pomposity and harshness.)


Jackie H said...

yesyesyesyesyes! the myth of multi-tasking has run amok in our culture.

But I must say: It was wonderful and satisfying and so enjoyable to listen to a good reader reading me Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in my car. (Both borrowed from the Leon County Library!) Tom Sawyer on a long road trip. Huck Finn during the back-and-forth to work, grocery store, church. Didn't matter. Sheer delight in both cases -- although I will note that I did not hesitate to hit the rewind button if I realized my mind had wandered ... :)

Steerforth said...

I'm a slow reader and have always felt slightly inadequate, but I can't bear to skip or leave a paragraph behind when I haven't fully understood its meaning.

Also, some passages are too wonderful to only read once. When I first read the immortal words 'Call me Ishmael...' I had to read it several times to savour the wonderful prose.

Brett said...

Jackie, thanks for responding. The danger in posting my private thoughts to a blog, always late at night, and with a scotch in hand, is that I wake up the next morning and think, "Oh God, I hope I didn't embarrass myself".

It's not too bad this time, but I see far too many stern imperatives.

Audio books are a good thing, as I have often heard from our patrons. My sister Carol has a long commute every day from Tampa to Lakeland, and it's her reading time as well, as she has many claims upon her time. I know that if I want to share a book with her, I need to give it to her on CD.

I guess I am more like Steerforth. Reading is not a linear thing for me, and I often read passages several times before moving on.

Steerforth, you made me think of one of favorite pieces of prose, the first seven pages of Anthony Powell's, "The Valley of Bones".

Jackie H said...


I very much enjoyed your original posting! No way was it harsh OR pompous. (But I also enjoyed your re-reflections.:) )

Re my original post: As I said, I simply delighted in hearing TS and HF read to me via an audiobook as I was en route someplace ... anyplace! But I already "knew" these wonderful characters and stories -- or, rather, I should say I had been previously introduced to them. I wonder if the experience would have been such a joy if I had not ... ?

Well. Maybe the answer is YES when the experience involves a master such as Mark Twain. But with a storyteller less gifted ...

Hmmm. I don't know and I don't know if I'm making sense. Just wanted to say your "slow reading" thoughts pinged w me.


PS Oh, yeah, one last thing: I also have heard people talk about reading (skimming) a book in an unbelievable amount of time. And I say to you: ditto ditto ditto.

Brett said...

Jackie, you are so kind to read and remark upon my little blog. But I was not happy with this post in its original form.

All my life, my "inner Prussian" has gotten me into trouble. I have to keep him on a short leash, or I will have no friends.

With audio books, they say the reader makes a huge difference. I have heard it said that the recording of "Angela's Ashes", read by author Frank McCourt, is a far superior experience compared to the print version.