THE JOY OF SLOW READINGPosted by Maxine on April 4th, 2011
I am a speed reader. Actually, a speeded-up reader. A course in “speeded reading” during my first year of university, offered only to a chosen few who were already fast readers, taught us to reduce eye-fixations, to race through pages of print using an “S” motion of our eyes, to ignore redundancies and strip material quickly to its bones. Reading fast was a boon during my busy younger years. Despite the many responsibilities of four kids growing up, and all the busy, active life of church and community and farm constantly impinging on me, I was able to keep reading, working my way through whole periods of English literature. And speeded reading vastly increased the range and reach of the material I was able to master during my pell-mell paced mid-life graduate studies.
But, to tell you the truth, I am tired of it.
I am tired of glancing over an article, and then proceeding through it like a ricocheting golf ball. I am tired of racing through novels so fast that I feel disappointed when they are done. As one of the benefits of retirement, I am beginning to enjoy intetionally slowed-down reading. Of reading the way I did before I trained my eyes to race over print–the way I read all of Dickens’ novels in my teens, for example, when the characters had time to come to life in my imagination, and the plots engaged me over time until their wonderful and long-delayed ”tying up.”
I still speed read, of course–there’s plenty of material that deserves only a cursory glance. But with a few select books, I am purposely reading much more slowly.
I spent nearly three months reading Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection last summer, a few paragraphs at a time. I was hungry for this sound teaching. The time I spent in this book was used by the Spirit to transform my approach to going to church–after a lifetime of faithful and dutiful habit, I now go expecting to meet the Risen Christ in Word, Sacrament, and the gathered people of God.
I spread a reading of George Eliot’s Romolo over several weeks of evening reading, because I wanted to savour her style, engage deeply with her characters, really understand the ideas that drove the story. I lived the novel, in the old way of novel-reading, and will choose others to treat to the same careful, spread-over-time reading.
Margaret Visser’s , The Gift of Thanks,” an exhaustive studyof “the roots and rituals of gratitude” deserved the paragraph-by paragraph reading I gave it over several months this fall. Her careful peeling back of customs and history to explore the difference between grace and obligation as the mainspring for giving afforded a new way of thinking about how the “inexpressible gift” of God to us in the Incarnation of Christ is “gospel”: very good news, and very new news in the history of humanity. Interesting to me was the way in which Margaret Visser’s scholarly work validated to me my own exploration in Love Knows No Difference: Learning to Give and Receive (Harvest House, 1983; Reprint, Regent College Publishing, 1999, ISBN 1-57383-139-5). In my home on our Alberta farm, surrounded by the kindnesses of community, I wrote a much smaller work from a much humbler place–but I was moved to write by attending to the same things that Margaret Visser attends to here: the ways in which God’s grace centres and transforms both giving and receiving.
And what am I reading slowly right now? Julie Canlis’ Calvin’s Ladder. In “Of Studies,” Francis Bacon said, ”Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Julie’s is among those special books that deserve to be read “wholly, and with diligence and attention.”