If you want to kill the pleasure of reading, come up with a plan like the one Maura Kelly cooked up in her online Atlantic article A Slow-Books Manifesto.
You can already find calls for slow reading echoing the slow foods movement, but where those calls pretty much just exhort us to slow down, unplug, and read, Kelly’s plan has rules.
Whenever we have free time we should turn to literature she says. And not just any literature, but to riff off Michael Pollan:
Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.
Right. Books as broccoli, exactly what Alan Jacobs in The Pleasures of Reading in and Age of Distraction says books should not be.
Then she suggests that we aim to read at least 30 minutes a day. While it is okay to read on an e-reader, magazines and online articles of any kind don’t count. Neither do non-literary books. What exactly a non-literary book is I am not completely sure but judging from the titles she thinks we should read, Moby Dick, War and Peace, etc., I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Terry Pratchett, Jaqueline Winspear, and Tana French don’t count as literary.
And why should we follow such a regimen? Because reading literature makes us better people. Sure it does! Because Hitler, an avid reader, was such a stand up guy. Arguments like that set my teeth on edge. She says nothing at all about reading for pleasure. In fact, her plan seems to want to deliberately wring every ounce of pleasure out of reading and make all but the most devoted readers spend all their free time playing video games and checking Facebook.
In her weird line of reasoning she thinks that slow reading will lead to the spinach of literature: poetry. Sorry, but reading novels slowly does not make a direct line to reading poetry. And I am sure, like her novels, not all poetry will make the cut.
And if that isn’t bad enough, she suggests
if you’re not reading slowly, you’re doing yourself – and your community – a great wrong.
Huh? I’m not sure how she comes to that conclusion. She quotes Joseph Brodsky talking about the reading of books and then somehow extrapolates that to reading slowly. Does not work.
I’m all for reading good books. And I am all for reading slowly. I don’t read very fast anyway. But to make a prescription out of it does not do anyone any good. Just as we cannot live on only broccoli and spinach, readers cannot read only broccoli and spinach. It also doesn’t inspire those who don’t read to want to read. We do not need to read in order to live or have a good life or be a good person or make a significant contribution to our community. If we surround reading with rules and turn it into work, why would anyone, after working all day at a job, want to come home and work at reading? I wouldn’t. Would you?