Rule number fourteen in Mikics’ book Slow Reading in a Hurried Age is “find another book.” This is really easy when you are reading a good nonfiction book because there is usually a bibliography or notes to mine for further pursuit. Sadly, Mikics provided neither in his book. He does, however, mention a few books and articles in the text and a few more in his acknowledgements.
Here are the books I added to my TBR lists:
- Buried in Books by Julie Rugg. A “reader’s anthology,” it gathers together quotes and excerpts and what not about reading, book buying, borrowing, recommending, and all the other crazy and not so so crazy things bookish folk do.
- In Defense of Reading: A Reader’s Approach to Literary Criticism by Reuben A. Brower. Published in 1962, my understanding about this book is that it is more about close reading than about how we tend to think of literary criticism these days. But really, when you think about it, literary critics, the good ones at any rate, demonstrate close reading for us. To be a good literary critic, one must also be a good reader.
- Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology by Helen Vendler. Vendler has a reputation as a top notch poetry critic. I’ve only ever read an essay or two by her but one of these days I am determined to read one or more of her many books. Perhaps this one might be the first?
There are plenty of other books Mikics mentions, of course, there are the poets and novelists and essayists and dramatists and short story writers he discusses as well. Not a gold mine, but definitely potentially fruitful if you are looking for paths to go down.
A couple essays he mentions are available on the internet and I wanted to bring them up here. The first is by Charles Lamb, Readers Against the Grain.
Lamb is such a hoot; the satire and the snark flow fluently from his pen. In this case, the readers against the grain are not who you would expect. Lamb complains of all the books and magazines being published and how, in order to be hip you have to read the latest and greatest that everyone is talking about. And that’s the problem. Everyone is talking about the same books and the people who are reading them really shouldn’t be because they aren’t really readers at all, thus “readers against the grain.” The only reason they are reading is to be able to say that they have read. And when these readers have read, they turn to the magazines to find out what they should think about the book instead of coming to their own opinion of it. Lamb laments:
Must we magazine it and review at this sickening rate for ever? Shall we never again read to be amused? but to judge to criticize to talk about it and about it? Farewell, old honest delight taken in books not quite contemporary, before this plague-token of modern endless novelties broke out upon us — farewell to reading for its own sake!
Even today, who is completely immune from book buzz? Who among us has never taken up a new book because everyone was talking about it? Lamb almost makes me feel a little guilty!
The other essay is from 2007. Time for Reading by Lindsay Waters is addressed mainly to academics but is still worth a read for anyone interested in the subject of slow reading.
Waters wants to start a movement and here she is attempting to engage teachers of reading and literature to join her. In order to rescue reading we must begin with the way reading is taught. It’s been a long time since grade school and I already knew how to read when I began kindergarten, but I do recall the teacher always telling us to “sound it out” when we ran up against words we didn’t know. Which means phonics was the likely method used back then. But from what Waters says, phonics is no more:
What happens when we have children speed up learning to read, skipping phonics and diagramming sentences? I believe it’s hard to read Milton if you have not learned to take pleasure in baroque sentence structures.
I am sure there are plenty of kids who learned how to read just fine without phonics and I don’t know how most are taught these days. As for sentence diagramming leading to pleasure in Milton, she is totally wrong on that front. I never learned to diagram a sentence until my junior year of college when I had to take a required semester of grammar. I can attest that I enjoyed Milton before that class and learning how to diagram a sentence contributed zero pleasure to my reading. I hated sentence diagramming so much I forgot it as soon as I could when the class was done and to this day, if you ask me to do it, I cannot. I am confident that sentence diagramming is not a requirement for being a good reader.
So, anyway, the way reading is taught these days is bad according to Waters.
Next she takes a few punches at university professors, especially Franco Moretti. Moretti has been doing what you might call quantitative analysis of texts, something that only became possible when a large number of books had been digitized. He is doing some interesting work, I think, but Waters willfully misunderstands what he is about. She accuses Moretti of promoting the study of literature that doesn’t require one to actually read a book.
Next she turns on professors who think students, in order to be good readers, need to practice “fluency,” which translates to reading fast. I’ve never heard of this before, but then college was a long time ago. Still, I know all about having to read fast. As an English major who always took a full course load every semester, I typically had three to four English classes and two or three general education classes to juggle. I was always speeding my way through something whether it was my biology textbook or a Shakespeare play, there was never time enough to read slowly. It is the unfortunate outcome of needing to complete one’s education in a timely fashion so one can get a proper, decent paying job and stop having to ask her parents for money.
I would have loved to read the assigned texts for all my classes slowly and carefully, I would have learned so much more. But that’s one of the benefits of enjoying reading to begin with because all those books I rushed through at university, I can go back to them and reread them with care any time I want.
Towards the end of her essay Waters does make some good points:
slowing down can produce a deeply profound quiet that can overwhelm your soul, and in that quiet you can lose yourself in thought for an immeasurable moment of time.
Isn’t that a lovely description?
Waters mentions cognitive science studies that reveal that while your eyes are sliding across he page and you are seeing the words there is a slight delay before your brain becomes aware of what it means. The brain needs time and slow reading provides that time. She asks,
What time does discovery take?
Ultimately, Waters says,
The role of literature is to mess with time, to establish its own time, its own rhythm. A new agenda for literary studies should open up the time of reading, just as it opens up how the writer establishes his or her rhythm. Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.
Slow down. Take time to smell the roses. Wallow. Bask. Enjoy.