Why We Need To Start Slow Reading
It’s the fault of that bloody woman, Marie Kondo, forcing us all to chuck out our stuff and live with the things that give us joy. ‘Nobody needs more than 30 books,’ she says. Hey Marie, I have news for you. I ‘need’ at least a couple of thousand books, okay?
It used to be that I read everywhere. I walked around shedding books like a junkyard dog shed fleas. I’m with Stephen King on this; he said he balanced books to read while peeing. We’ve all been there. I didn’t mind the stacks on every flat surface, the balancing act of getting a book to stay on the narrow lip of the bath, or dropping a heavy volume on my face because I’d fallen asleep reading it. It wasn’t about what happened to the books after (I’m a profligate giver-away) but how much I could read.
But then my reading-everywhere habit started to be curtailed.
Living in an open-plan flat reduced my reading time because there’s no escape from others watching TV, but the biggest loss was on the tube, which is now peppered with inane announcements, the worst if which is the ‘See it, say it, sorted,’ campaign that puts outdated slang into the mouths of plummy lady announcers. There are also jovial guards with endless warnings about stairs and platform edges that only a moron would need, and announcements that tell you not to panic just because the train has been held at a red signal for 10 seconds.
Because I work at home I have no commute, and because I live in the city I walk everywhere, so I have to create my reading time. But much of that is now spent on my iPad because proper reading requires concentration, and I’m not sure I have it anymore.
There are currently 200 novels sitting on my e-reader and another sixty or so lined up unread on my shelves. I’m reading Roy Porter’s Social History of England alongside several odd collections of crime stories, I’m reading John Sutherland’s ‘The Wall’ and ‘The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt’ and Kate Atkinson and Stanley Ellin and WW Jacobs and Rudyard Kipling and a book of essays by Gary Indiana and various volumes on Anglo-Saxon Britain for research purposes. I’m reading words but I’m not savouring atmosphere.
I tried a couple of very well received rural period novels, ‘The Gallows Pole’ and ‘His Bloody Project’, and found to my shame that despite their obvious quality I could not finish either, and am at a loss to understand why. I think as the reader who was sitting on a Piccadilly line train, I failed to break through to the dense, poetic rural settings and properly appreciate what I was reading. I did not get into the moment because I could not lose myself in the books.
I wonder if the attention-deficit me of today would have had the patience to read the Gormenghast trilogy that I devoured at seventeen? So I’m going to try slow reading – isolating myself in a particular spot, the same one every day, setting aside an hour (Hey, that’s just the length of a cop show episode) and instead of galloping through as many chapters as possible, only allowing myself to read one or two chapters slowly. I’ll take in sentence structures and properly enjoy the characters and dig down to the author’s intentions, thinking carefully about what I’m reading. It could be the answer to enjoying and understanding more, and reading fewer novels in a longer time period. Instead of skimming descriptions I’ll try to imagine them. Part of it will be learning not to panic about how many books we still have to read.
Let’s see if a little slow reading can cure my attention problem and make me enjoy a novel. Similar experiences here please.