I am very much enjoying Slow Reading in a Hurried Age by David Mikics. It was rocky at first but the book and I have now made friends and I expect we will remain so right up to the end.
One of the things I was having difficulty with at first was Mikics kept talking about reading rules. And indeed, a flip through the book revealed that the entire middle section was made up of his fourteen rules for reading. I suspect I must have a strong anti-authoritarian streak in me because I bristled at the thought of there being rules for how to read. I was worried Mikics was going to get all prescriptivist on me and start telling me I HAD to read in a certain way and read certain books and if I didn’t do that I was doing it all wrong and I wasn’t a real reader.
But I didn’t give in and give up on him and I am glad because before launching into his rules, he explains that they aren’t really rules. Instead they are guidelines and suggestions, things you can do to improve your reading experience. Not every book will be one in which they all need to be employed. Far from being rules, I’d call them a toolkit. So once we got over that bump, it’s been great. I am now deep into the rules that aren’t rules and Mikics is doing such a good job at demonstrating the how and why of each one that it is a real pleasure.
I learned from a few blogs recently that there has apparently been a dust up last year about the use of the word “crepuscular” in the Paris Review online and a reader who yelled “elitist!” It was followed by an article by Eleanor Catton pretty much saying that just because you are a lazy clod who can’t take the time to look up a word you don’t know doesn’t mean something is elitist. There are nuances in her argument but that’s my nutshell summary.
Just last week there was an article in Salon by Laura Miller taking up Catton’s article and the Paris Review kerfuffle. Miller is on Catton’s side, but adds more nuance citing issues of intellectual insecurity and book shaming (you know, people who read genre/ commercial fiction are stupid/ lazy, etc).
It struck me as I was reading these articles that I am reading a book that offers a cure for what ails the reader who had problems with crepuscular. Slow reading is work but it is also pleasure. One of the “rules” is to have a good dictionary at hand at all times. The dictionary is to be used not just to look up words the reader doesn’t know, but also words the reader is familiar with. Because, as we know, words change their meanings over time and sometimes the meaning a writer intended is no longer current with us. Plus, word etymology can be really fun and also reveal interesting nuances that affect a text and our understanding of it.
Slow reading for everybody! Then couple that with the understanding that while you might be able to read, reading well and deeply takes practice. Olympic skiers aren’t born, they are made with lots and lots of practice. Likewise good readers.
To add to Mikics’ “rules” we have Theodore Roosevelt’s reading rules. He didn’t set them out as such, they have been gleaned from his autobiography. They are less about how to read than about reading in general. Things like read for pleasure first and the profit comes later. And read to meet your own needs and don’t pay attention to what your neighbor says you should do. Wise man, that Teddy.