I am slowly making my way through Susan Hill’s “Howard’s End is on the Landing” (I mentioned before that I am getting into reading books about books!) I am enjoying reading her thoughts and insights on literature, writing, classics, books that last and ‘trendy’ books, libraries, and other reflections on books.
“When people had only the Bible and the Prayer Book to read, they read them every day, knew them from front to back and in reverse, and for reasons that were not only religious. Whatever your beliefs, the Bible is full of good stories, magnificently told. I am uncertain if I could go for a year without anything else but it would be interesting to see what it was like to have only the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer to read, slowly and carefully, for a month.
A strange competitiveness has emerged among some readers in the last few years. I have know book-bloggers boast of getting through twenty books plus, a week, as if they were trying for a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Why has reading turned into a form of speed dating? And then there is fashion and the desire to have the very latest book – which doesn’t matter a scrap so long as the book is wanted for itself, not just because it is the one everybody is talking about, and so long as plenty of other, unfashionable books are desired as well.
Some years ago, magazine carried adverts for correspondence courses that taught speed reading, a useful skill for those who have to digest a great deal of information quickly – lawyers, perhaps. But lawyers read material that does not have to be retained for long, and is not of great literary or artistic merit.
The best books deserve better. Everything I am reading during this year has so much to yield but only if I give it my full attention and respect it by reading slowly. Fast reading of a great novel will get us the plot. It will get us names, a shadowy idea of the characters, a sketch of settings. It will not get us subleties, small differentiations, depth of emotion and observation, multilayered human experience, the appreciation of simile and metaphor, any sense of context, any comparison with other novels, other writers.
Fast reading will not get us cadence and complexities of style and language… It will not allow the book to burrow down into our memory and become part of ourselves, the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and vicarious experience which helps to form us as complete human beings…
Slow reading is deeply satisfying.”