Put the modifier “slow” in front of anything and people call it a movement. Slow food, slow cities, slow sex, you name it. I was not the first writer to use the expression, slow reading. In his 1887 preface to Daybreak, Nietzsche defined his task as a philologist to be a teacher of slow reading. In 1978, James Sire published his book, How to Read Slowly. In 2009, when I published my little book of research, Slow Reading, I attributed the unexpected attention it received as a reaction to the rise of e-books. There has been no abatement in interest in slow reading. The web dialogue on the subject is lively. This year, Thomas Newkirk published a new book, The Art of Slow Reading, a worthy addition to what seems to be a real movement.
The Art of Slow Reading provides what many readers seek — a set of practical techniques. Sire’s book also provided practical techniques but framed them in a Christian context. Slow reading continues to be of interest to religious readers but it is also useful to everyone, theist or not. My own book gave a few practical suggestions in the last chapter, but Newkirk fills a gap by making it his central subject. He shows how these techniques can be used with students to improve their reading skills and enjoyment.
Six “time-honoured practices for engagement” are described.
- Performance reading is a favourite of mine. While speed-readers are taught to eliminate sub-vocalization, slow readers are encouraged to read aloud, dramatizing a reading with actions. This practice can be quite enjoyable in a classroom.
- Good old-fashioned memorization is another technique. I recall as a youth being compelled to repeat a poem ad nauseam in preparation for a recital. Those words were etched in my soul and I can recite them with pleasure to this day. “It is language retained, embodied, and used at a moment of ‘affliction.'”
- Forget using a highlighter, mark up your book with a pen, completing the work with your own thoughts. Newkirk advises on notation style and markup exercises.
- Many students find reading difficult. Newkirk suggests that a beginner reader is in a position to read creatively, turning reading difficulties into mysteries to be solved. It a good technique for developing critical thinking.
- Slow yourself down to the speed at which the text was written. Type out four pages of a favoured author’s writing. Ask questions about why the author did things in a particular way and write the answers.
- Newkirk’s sixth practice, “opening a text”, continues the theme of “reading like a writer”, an art previously described by Francine Prose in a book by that name. He ends with scriptural reading as another opening technique. (Perhaps slow reading is inevitably a spiritual exercise.)
As I read and enjoyed Newkirk’s book, I thought of other slow reading techniques that I use and should have included in my own work.
- Is there a setting that fits with the content of your book? Go there for the reading. On a day off, take a book on a bike or canoe trip. Bring a lunch. Find a quiet place in a park or museum. Spend a morning just reading in that proper setting.
- Stop buying new books. Go to your bookshelf. Read the ones still uncracked. Understand why you have been avoiding them. Maybe you just need the right setting.
- Read just a few paragraphs or pages, then put the book down. Sleep on it. Unleash your unconscious on the text.
- Blog book reviews! I write “reader responses”, personal reactions that I noted as I was reading.
One last observation. Newkirk made no mention of e-books. Maybe he doesn’t read them, or maybe he thinks it makes no difference. It is a curious but minor omission given the rapid reading style associated with digital text. In any case, if you are interested in learning the techniques of slow reading for yourself, or for instructional purposes in the classroom, I highly recommend The Art of Slow Reading.