Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Art of Reading Slowly, Or, Read Like You Eat

America believes in fast: fast cars, fast food, fast writing. Look at Stephanie Meyer. She wrote Twilight in, what, two months? Wow, that blows my mind. We love speed.

I know a lot of people who read fast. I've heard rumors that JFK read some ridiculous number of words a minute--7,000, or something, though I have no legitimate source on that. I took a speed-reading course in college, even taught speed-reading mini-classes as part of my job at the reading/writing center where I worked. I know HOW to read fast. But I don't do it. Not that I didn't understand all that speed-reading stuff. I just didn't like it. I never could make myself practice.

I like reading slowly.

Not that there's anything wrong with reading fast. I admire those people who can read 2 or 3,000 words a minute. Or even 700. How nice to be so efficient. It has to be good for school.

But I read slowly. I mean, really slowly, as in read-aloud-slow, like Charlie Brown's Snoopy from the old Peanuts comic strips, who moved his lips when he read, to Lucy's disgust. Only you might not want to cut me as much slack as Snoopy, since I'm not a dog (I also hope my novels are slightly better than his; they all began, "It was a dark and stormy night..."). I'm not going to apologize for the slow reading, though.The better the book, the better the language, the more likely you are to catch my lips moving. And I felt vindicated when I read that Stephen King, who reads voluminously, considers himself a slow reader, too. Yeah, me and Snoopy and Steve.

I like to read the way I eat, savoring the textures and flavors and details. I love the way some authors rub words together. I like to hear those sounds, feel them in my mouth. Kate DiCamillo's new book The Magician's Elephant is great for lip-moving reading. Words delight her--you can tell. Her words delight me. And poetry, how can I do it justice inside my head? Language is all about sounds. That's one of the great things about reading aloud to kids: you get to experience the whole book aloud.  You get all the roundness and play of the language in your mouth. It's delicious.

I don't always read slowly. Sometimes I don't have time; sometimes I don't care, or it's not worth it. You won't ever notice my lips moving when I scan the morning paper for headlines. If I'm really in a hurry, I might even make myself dust off the old speed-reading techniques and go for pure speed; for example, if my book group is meeting tonight and I just got my copy of the book today.

But I don't do fast with the really good books, if I can help it. They deserve slow.

Or the really bad ones, come to think of it, like my old university Physical Science textbook, which I spent all my time copy-editing instead of studying, because the terrible grammar drove me crazy. I got a C in that class. Oops. But the book was all fixed and ready to go to press for a second round by the end of the term.

You might try Snoopy-style reading sometime (do NOT copy-edit your science book!). Slow down, taste the words. It's an art, really. More people ought to dabble in it.

And you can think of me, reading to myself, lips moving as I go.

Blog Archive