Slow reading

18th century gentleman with iPad

Dr. John Friend and his iPad, after Michael Dahl by Mike Licht. CC Some rights reserved.

Two weeks ago, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about an unusual sort of book club. The members of this club don’t discuss what they’re reading. They apparently don’t talk much at all, beyond a brief “Hello” at the beginning of the meeting and “See you next week” at the end.

I thought about my reading habits. For most of my life—since I learned to read around age four—I’ve read at least a book a day. I left in-progress books next to a comfortable chair in each room, on the porch, in the car, in my purse, in my backpack, even in the bathroom. I’d read while eating meals, if I were alone at the table. I always had a book with me, and I’d read on the bus, waiting in line at the bank, during lunch and breaks, in doctors’ waiting rooms, any time I had a minute or two between tasks, and for at least an hour at the end of the day as I wound down my brain from the day’s activity level to something more conducive to sleep.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed I’m reading far fewer books. I read magazines. I read blogs. I read online news articles. I still read some books, either paper or e-books, just not as many as I used to. I have at least eight in-progress books lying around, but instead of finishing one a day, it’s more like one or two books a month.

I first noticed this depressing change in habit a few years ago, but the WSJ article really made me think. In looking for reasons for the change, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

  • Over the last two years, the time I used to spend reading books at home is now spent sorting through boxes and boxes and boxes of old files: sorting them, reading them, deciding what to toss and what to scan and keep. This is exhausting, and uses up time and energy I used to spend reading.
  • I’m more socially active than I used to be. I go to more concerts, more art exhibits. And, through social media, I spend far more time chatting with friends all over the world than I used to. As my arthritic joints have increasingly limited my ability to comfortably hold a phone and write letters with pen and paper, I’ve replaced occasional letters and phone calls with daily electronic communication on Facebook and Twitter. As a result, I’m in much closer relationships with many of my relatives and friends, but I also spend more time maintaining those relationships—time I used to spend reading.
  • The world is noisier and more distracting than it was. People talk more loudly. Car horns are louder, easily heard even through closed windows in my home office. Computer keys clacking in a coffee shop are louder than paper pages turning. Everything everybody owns beeps at us constantly, whether we’re touching them or not. I need a quiet environment to enjoy reading.
  • Most of the books I want to read these days are big. Even paperback mysteries are 400-500 pages, now, and holding them open makes my hands hurt.
  • I’m not absorbing printed text as quickly as I used to when I was younger. I used to skim, and remember every word. Now, not so much. My previous normal reading speed is not serving me well any more, and reading isn’t as much fun. I need to slow down.

So what am I going to do about this? I’ve already made a start with three habit changes:

  • I’ve joined a book club that reads 2-3 books a year and meets twice a month to discuss a chapter or two. Even if I skim a book quickly, I have to go back and read it slowly to take part in the discussion.
  • I’ve joined a group on GoodReads where I committed to read a set number of books over the year. While it hasn’t gotten me back to my previous reading level, it is spurring me to actually finish the books I start.
  • I’m reading more and more books on my nook or using the Kindle app on my iPad. Yes, I still love the feel and smell of paper books, but I can carry hundreds of books on these devices, and it weighs about the same as paperback.

This isn’t enough, though, so I’m looking at the WSJ Slow Reading article for inspiration. So far, I haven’t found a group like this in Rochester, NY. Not even at Writers and Books, or local bookstores. Lots of book discussion groups; no quiet groups for slow reading.

Want to help me start one?

About Kat

Cat lover, singer, early music addict, reads a lot. Former R&D chemist with an obsessive need for variety. Now active as a freelance technical writer and editor, web designer, photographer, computer coach, and trainer. Owner, MasterWork Consulting (http://www.masterworkconsulting.com/).
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