At a recent holiday party an old friend was going on about a hilarious drunken scene in The Great Gatsby and I called her out. No such scene. Clearly she had drunk too much of the special egg nog. She insisted and like any good former English major had her copy to hand in a matter of moments. I was humbled in good spirits.
This was not an isolated incident. Many times I’ve had the embarrassment of claiming to have read and enjoyed a book but am unable to recall any but the most primary characters or scenes.
I blame this on a skill I used to take pride in – being a “fast” reader.
Fast readers are heaped with rewards in school. I was praised for it from a very young age. Our entire system of formal education is based around cramming as many books (for enrichment!) as possible into every term while requiring only that the major ideas are picked out and discussed for 50 minutes. And so it was with Gatsby.
Now that I’m years past grades and reading is simply a pleasure, I’ve begun to wonder – does my ability to read quickly really just mean that I skim even when I don’t have to?
Karl Pohrt, owner of the Shaman Drum and himself a self-described “slow” reader, mentioned the other day a new movement of Slow Bloggers. These are writers who choose to carefully select topics to write about and so post only occasionally, randomly - whenever an idea comes and the writing is complete. Think Slow Food for the mind.
Doing anything slowly is an act of revolution in our culture. Slow Blogging, Slow Food, Slow-anything are movements that are stopping folks in their frantic tracks and asking them to pay attention to what is happening. Take pleasure in your leisure time already! Slowness asks that you focus on just one thing and that you care about it. Reading should do this as well.
So I tried a little experiment – I reread Gatsby (a slim volume that I probably could’ve polished off in a couple of hours previously) over the course of several days. It was very hard. I had to stop myself many times and put down my metaphorical fork between bites.
But it was like reading it for the first time.
You can see where this is heading – another Slow movement. In 2009 I’m challenging myself to begin rereading all of my favorite books, slowly. I’m going to ration myself to maybe 50 pages per day. Yes! – going back and rereading. I’m going to waste hours and hours reading and reading books I’ve already passed my eyes across. Amazing!