I completed my undergraduate degree a few weeks ago. In the chaos of the past months, I haven’t had any consistent time to read. I just started carrying my book with me everywhere, grabbing a few pages whenever I could—at breakfast before class, in-between classes, in a waiting room, before meetings. I snatched up the words greedily, absorbing everything I could, relishing each opportunity to read a book that I chose, not something that was assigned for class.
Yet when someone would ask me about the book I was reading, I had a hard time recalling the nuances of the plot. I was so hungry for any kind of “fun” literature, that my eyes skipped down the page, neglecting to carefully absorb the text in front of me. The Guardian published in article in 2010 reporting on the slow-reading movement—readers block out 30-45 minutes, put down their phones, and slowly pay attention to the words on the page. The article quotes John Miedema, author of the book Slow Reading, as saying, “If you want the deep experience of a book, if you want to internalise it, to mix an author’s ideas with your own and make it a more personal experience, you have to read it slowly.” One can have a decent conversation about a book that they’ve skimmed, but the personal experience, only comes with books we’ve read slowly.
I’ve always been a fast reader. It’s my claim to fame amongst my fellow book-friends. I can read a 300-400 page novel in about three and half hours. One summer, right after my freshman year, I found myself with a significant amount of time on my hands and I read 50 books. But when I look over the titles of those books, I can’t always remember those plots. In my desire to read literally everything, I don’t read anything well.
This hit home as I read my way through The Empathy Exams. I read the first chunk of the book on a plane out to LA on my iPad. The iPad isn’t my favorite way to read and I found myself skimming several sections. While I was at the AWP conference in LA, I bought a print copy of the book and resumed reading in my physical copy. I also decided (rather spontaneously) to underline passages that I thought were particularly nice. The difference in my readings is astounding. I connected more with the text as I put pen to paper, marking the book with the impact it had on me at this moment in my life. Almost two months later, I still remember the end of that book. But I can’t remember the ending.
I’m going to try to read slowly. I’m working a lot this summer, so reading time is going to be even harder to come by. But I want to set out at least 30 minutes to read every day. I want to shut my phone off and have more moments with just me and my books. Many of the people I most admire say they read more because they don’t have a TV or don’t watch TV. I love my Netflix, but I think that for the month of June, I’m going to go without. I’m going to spend the time that I would normally spend in front of the TV with a book in my hand.
Join me. Shut off the TV. Put your phone on airplane mode. Curl up with a new book and mug of tea. Let me know your results in the comments!