Slow Reading For Dummies

by Sharleen Jonsson

Have you heard there’s Slow Reading now, similar in spirit to Slow Food? Like foodies fed up with greasy beef patties in buns manufactured a thousand miles away, serious readers are worried about what the Internet is doing to our reading habits. I like online news, Twitter and blogs (obviously), but I also think Slow Reading is a great idea. I’m all in favor of lingering over a  novel, the way I’m in favor of taking my time with a fillet of fresh, local salmon and a glass of cold chardonnay. In fact, I like to savor a thoughtful essay with a glass of good wine. (Is Slow Drinking next? Just wondering.)

According to a recent article by Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian, the first person to popularize the term “slow reading” was Lancelot R Fletcher, and Fletcher argues that slow reading is not so much about unleashing a reader’s creativity, as uncovering the author’s. But why should you care about the author’s creativity unless it stokes yours?

An entry on Wikipedia gets this: slow reading is “the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure.” Yes—slower reading will increase your pleasure. (Wikipedia then carries on with this sentence: “The concept appears to have originated in the study of philosophy and literature as a technique to more fully comprehend and appreciate a complex text. More recently, there has been increased interest in slow reading as result of the slow movement and its focus on decelerating the pace of modern life.” I mean, really, it’s wordy writing like that that fosters a longing for 140-word tweets. But, I digress.)

According to Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, the Internet is an ecosystem of interruption technologies. These ever-present sources of online distraction are changing the way our brains process information and hence the way we think and communicate. “When we’re constantly distracted and interrupted, as we tend to be online, our brains are unable to forge the strong and expansive neural connections that give depth and distinctiveness to our thinking,” Carr says. Is this true? Is the Internet making us stupid and shallow?

Blogger Tracy Seeley, an English professor at the University of San Francisco, claims the Internet creates “monkey mind.” Her solution is to download the software Freedom, which blocks Internet access for whatever period of time the purchaser chooses. Seeley says the software frees her “from surfing and skittering across the surface of things, which eats up [her] time and makes confetti of [her] concentration.”

I can’t see myself spending more money on software to keep me from the Internet access I already pay for.

So, my solution is simpler. Call it Slow Reading for Dummies, or the Idiot’s Guide to Deeper Comprehension of the Written Word: Walk away from the computer and pick up an old-fashioned book. You know, the kind made of paper, with pages you turn by hand. My environmentally-aware friends might grumble, but I figure I read responsibly—I never buy a book that seems a waste of a tree. Besides, if I read only on the internet, I’m probably wasting a good chunk of my mind.

For more on this (yeah, yeah, I know I’m pointing you to online reading but I never said I didn’t value online reading, okay?):

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Purple Penguin July 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm

cool! I wish my students would read slowly!
I guess slow reading has had a negative rap on it. Thank you for this…I
will have to share this with my fellow teachers for all


sharleenjonsson July 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Thanks for your comment, Purple Penguin. Yes,
wouldn’t it be great if the “wired” generation would also learn to
appreciate reading with deep concentration, away from


Chuck B July 23, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Yes, slow reading goes along quite nicely
with the whole slow food thing, doesn’t it?

I see your point—and I agree—that an easy way to read slowly and with
more concentration is to walk away from the computer and read an
old-fashioned book. However, this isn’t an option when you’re trying to
think deeply and compose something that needs to be written on a computer.

Though, come to think of it, I suppose I could walk away from the computer
and write at least an outline on old-fashioned paper with a pen,


Slow Reader August 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Now this piece, Sharleen, I LOVED!
Suddenly, at my ripe old age, something I naturally do is now “in style” —
my very slow reading rate is now “cool” and sure “to increase comprehension
or pleasure” …
I have failed every “speed reading” program I ever tried; I have been
silently humiliated in my writing program classes when my peers are rattling
off tons of books they read — and I haven’t read a single one; I have
privately moaned when assigned course texts or neighborhood Book Club
choices exceeded 300 pages …
But now, I can refer to myself as a Classic Slow Reader … with


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