I recently chanced on James W. Sire’s book, How to Read Slowly: A Christian Guide to Reading with the Mind. That the intended audience of this book is Christians raised an eyebrow: certainly slow reading is good for theists of all stripes, as well as atheists and agnostics. Much of the book is indeed useful for anyone wishing to know tips about how to read slowly. It advises the reader to take the time to read a book’s preface and introduction, have a dictionary handy, and read with a pen in hand for notes. But the deeper purpose of the book is to teach the reader how to pick up on the world view of the author to see if it squares with the Christianity. This raised my other eyebrow; should Christians be wary of writers with divergent belief systems? But the advice is quite practical and useful for anyone. When analyzing non-fiction, the reader can apply philosophical questions, e.g., what is the author’s view on reality. When analyzing fiction, the reader can examine how the plot, theme and characters add up to the author’s vision of life. Biographical, historical and other information can provide context to a reading. The reader is wisely advised to bring a clear self-understanding to the reading.
Two items caught my particular interest. One, it is recommended to “read at your normal rate–or more slowly” (pg. 49). Speed readers are taught how to read as fast as possible, but slow readers should not necessarily try to read as slow as possible. The essence of slow reading is to make a choice about reading rate, perhaps reading quickly over light material, and slowing down for the richer parts. The sense of choice with slow reading is contrasted with the forced quality of much business and educational reading. A feeling of freedom is one of the reasons slow reading appeals to many; it helps recapture the joy of reading. Two, Sire distinguishes reading for entertainment or information from reading for perspective, the slow reading approach that allows one to pick up on subtleties in the text and the writer’s world view. Extending his idea, the face content drops into the background, creating a figure-ground reversal that is sometimes associated in the psychological literature with altered states of consciousness — fascinating.
Sire’s title piqued my awareness of the spiritual dimension of slow reading, and I have since noticed additional references on the benefits of slow reading toward spiritual life. Eugene Peterson wrote Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading: “Peterson is convinced that the way we read the Bible is as important as that we read it.” In a blog post entitled, Martin Luther: Lessons from his life and labor, John Piper admits that as a slow reader, he is encouraged by Luther’s advice: “A student who does not want his labor wasted must so read and reread some good writer that the author is changed, as it were, into his flesh and blood. For a great variety of reading confuses and does not teach. It makes the student like a man who dwells everywhere and, therefore, nowhere in particular.” Again a mystical dimension is brought out here; the subject certainly deserves deeper treatment another day.