Slow Reading

M. complains that he is a slow reader. Some people read more slowly than others, and it's a shame that this trait is too often equated with slowness in general. A misconception couched in the assumption that the endgame of reading should always be a linear comprehension of a text. That's the easy part, so humans love it. I don't love it, personally, but I understand the impulse. I've never been good at recounting narratives or spouting off movie quotes. But I've heard it's easy to do. I thumb my nose at easy! Regurgitation of data is not the only reason to read. There are things lurking beneath the surface of a well-written text that require more than a linear reading. For a writer, this should be as rote a notion as gravity is for physicists. Lyric poetry transcends linearity. Ghosts writhe in verse, constantly shifting context and association; there be monsters, seemingly unconnected outcroppings of ideas, images, and sounds that are left for the reader to parse and do with them what they will.

It's a hefty burden to place on a reader who has been taught to read for the what of a text, to be told what to think, and what is the correct answer or reading. It's the why and how that nourish, and those things take time to discover. That's slow reading. Multiple readings, engaging in an imaginary conversation with the poet - why this word, this image; how this conveys meaning, the mechanics of the language, its texture, if indeed it is meant to convey meaning at all! "Slow readers" may already be engaging in this train of thought already - scientists, engineers, analysts, deep thinkers, dreamers, searchers, and wanderers - if you've ever been called "slow" for any reason, you may just be a divergent kind of reader, a deeper reader. Explore that! I think this approach to reading can be very satisfying if one can dwell for long stretches in a place of newness and discomfort - and simply believe oneself capable of it. Poetry is hard. It requires investment in that deeper kind of reading. I don't know much about neuroscience, but I have to think that there are different parts of the brain that light up when one reads a poem. This is why poets are important and necessary, as a particularly wise teacher of mine once said.

M. just started a blog of his own, after much cajoling from yours truly. I will link to it here with his permission eventually, but for now suffice to say that I enjoy its clarity and concision - all one would expect of a scientific mind. Recently, walking the dog along our well-worn path, I looked up at the rather uncharacteristically gray sky - the kind of gray that feels all-encompassing and indefinite and it brought to mind a lyric from the Jobim standard Dindi - sky, so vast is the sky (of course, there were no faraway clouds, just wandering by - where did they go? Oh I don't know.) I felt remote and insubstantial in that moment, like a walking jellyfish (a v. cold jellyfish, as it was 17*). Where is this going? Wandering. Which I suppose is the point. It's the paradox of taking on something slowly and methodically that while it allows for greater precision, it also gives the mind more opportunities to make outrageous and thus v. important connections. Time makes poesy possible. Slow reading makes poetry legible.

There are so many trends for slow things: slow biking, slow food, etc., etc. We feel guilty about going too fast, we feel guilty when we slow down. So we make a Thing of it to validate whatever choice we choose. But I think that slow reading in particular deserves to be more than a fad, though I'd take a fad for now. Let's not guilt ourselves for the reading we're missing by taking a long, slow drink of what we're reading now. I say this mostly to myself, but to you as well, dear reader, if you're reading. I believe I'll make this my Lenten discipline (OK, I'm a little bit late to the game there, but I was busy trying to slow down.)


Popular Posts