Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

There is something about churning through books that induces envy and even admiration, never more than at this time of year when piles of finished tomes are splashed across social media. Bragging rights seem to go to those who have read lots of books and read them quickly – how many times have you seen someone boast about finishing 10 books in a year? What about five?

But there is power in reading slowly, something the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li tells her creative writing students at Princeton University. “They say, ‘I can read 100 pages an hour’,” she says. “But I say, ‘I don’t want you to read 100 pages an hour. I want you to read three pages an hour’.”

That’s the speed Li is happy to read at, even if she is re-reading a familiar text. “People often say they devoured a book in one sitting. But I want to savour a book, which means I give myself just 10 pages a day of any book.” On an average day, Li, best known for her novels A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Where Reasons End, reads 10 different books, spending half an hour on each title.

At that pace it can take Li up to three weeks to finish a novel. “When you spend two to three weeks with a book, you live in that world,” she says. “I think reading slowly is such an important skill. Nobody has ever talked about it, or taught me that. I’m a very patient reader. Even if it’s a very compelling book. I don’t want to rush from the beginning to the end.”

Elizabeth Strout, the Booker-shortlisted author of Olive Kitteridge and the Lucy Barton books, is also taking books at a more tranquil pace. “I was never a fast reader [but] I think I read more slowly than I used to. This is partly to savour every word. The way a sentence sounds to my ear is so important to me in the whole reading experience, and I always want to get it all – like when you read poetry.”

These words hit a nerve because I am an archetypal impatient reader, desperate to have finished a book as soon as I start. I want to know what happens – now. Ever since I started keeping track of the books I read (because I was sick of forgetting what I’d read) I’ve wanted to read more, to read faster.

So, in an effort to follow Li’s advice, I resolve both to linger and to juggle more than one book […]

Taking my time with multiple books at once feels liberating; as if I have permission to pick up books I’ve spent years meaning to tackle. I’m not promising never to cane something again but I really think Li is on to something. Oh, and I’m at 85 books for the year, not that I’m counting.

, from ‘I want to savour every word’: the joy of reading slowly‘ (The Guardian, December 2, 2022). Bragging rights seem to go to people who devour books, but, as this impatient reader found, turning the pages over many days or even weeks can immerse one deeper in the writer’s world

Comments

  1. I so agree with lingering. I find if I’m too excited I don’t read all the words and am left wondering what I missed. I have read a few H.P. Lovecraft stories, and because of his style (and the times) they are often hard to fly though. His words are poetry, wrapping around each thought and stentence, forcing you to read slowly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These words are comforting as I have been apologizing for being a slow reader all my reading life. I am actually reading War and Peace one chapter a day for a year. I will never forget this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Books, books, books … the pleasure of reading!! … “Susie Mesure, from ‘I want to savour every word’: the joy of reading slowly‘ (The Guardian, December 2, 2022). Bragging rights seem to go to people who devour books, but, as this impatient reader found, turning the pages over many days or even weeks can immerse one deeper in the writer’s world.”

    Like

  4. I love this. The pressure to read quickly makes some sense in academia, because you simply don’t have the time to read every relevant book or article slowly. But I was a philosophy major, and through that training I learned to really slow my reading down. Now, I feel like that training has been a curse, because I am so slow to get through research. My supervisor always tells me “skim, skim, skim!” And I struggle so much with doing that. This post made me feel a bit better about my reading habits. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An interesting piece. I have always been a fast reader and I plow through quite a few books in a year (although nothing like Mimi and you, pal. You guys are amazing….) Anyhoo, I have noticed I am slowing down as well. Wasn’t a conscious choice, really, but rather driven (as I now reflect) by my desire to dwell in an alternate universe for a bit longer.

    To wit: I’m currently reading ‘The Facemaker,’ a nonfiction book by Lindsey Fitzharris about a pioneering doctor in the field of plastic surgery. Fascinating. I am learning so much, and when I am in that world, I spend zero time thinking about the distressing nature of current affairs, etc., etc. Books offer a welcome reprieve, now more than ever, and I want to savor every moment. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a mantra for every part of our life. Slow down and take it all in. 🧡 love her practice.

    Like

  7. I love to linger – with certain authors (Jumpa Lahri comes to mind), and I savor and re-read sentences just for the magic that they hold. Others I race through – and enjoy tremendously, and arguably lose something in the speed…

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Interesting the various ways we are all wired… Have to tell you about my friend Doris (age 95) who lives near and usually walks to the Princeton Public Library every day. She has no tv or internet (to save money and stay in her house). So she reads the NY Times, the New Yorker, and the latest books on politics. Sometimes she stays up too late because she can’t put down whatever it is. Also interesting, she’s not an intellectual but went to 3 different art schools in NY City, and then worked in fashion and advertising. (I enjoy her appreciative eye, and we met at a local art show.) Funny that she loves crime and mystery–gave me Julie K. Brown’s “Perversion of Justice–the Jeffrey Epstein story” for my birthday. I remember that Brown uncovered this story in her paper, the Miami Herald, but I can’t even open the book.
    I’ve always been a slow savoring reader even though I was an “English Major.” I suspect that has something to do with my ability to remember what many forget.
    Currently, on the side I’m struggling (very slowly!) with “This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends” nonfiction all about the Cyber Weapons Arms Race by Nicole Perlroth. She writes fluently but the topic is definitely not my bailiwick.

    Like

  9. Love this, I’m the lingering kind. But if I linger too long my attention deficiency kicks in. It’s a fine balance.

    For the life of me I cannot do anything fast. My spirit exists my body and trips me if needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. this makes perfect sense to me

    Like

  11. I read and re-read. English is not my first language. The first time I read is just to read the words they knock on my mind. The second time is to feel, the third to relate and finally, to enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: