Gradual Sweetness and Strength
A Feature Review of
Slow Reading in A Hurried Age
Hardback: Harvard UP, 2013
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
This Book was Chosen as our 2013 Book of the Year!
Read our full list of 2013’s Best Books…
One of the greatest challenges that we face in Western culture at the turn of the 21st century is the problem of speed. This problem has been described in a number of different ways, perhaps most strikingly by sociologist George Ritzer, as the “McDonaldization of Society” (the title of his important 1992 book). Ritzer and other critics, including Wendell Berry, have emphasized the destructive powers of speed. Indeed, one of the most pressing questions that humanity will have to address in this century is: how do we slow down? As co-author of the forthcoming book Slow Church, I have spent the last few years reflecting on this very question, but if I was pressed to name a single practice that would be most transformative in helping us to slow down, I would say learning to read slowly and well. Reading is essential to Western culture, and we all do substantial amounts of it every day, but the challenge, of course, is to create space in our lives for reading slowly and attentively. As we begin to do so, we will find ourselves slowing down in other parts of our lives.
2013 has seen the publication of two important books on Slow Reading. The first of these was Isabel Hofmeyr’s Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading, which I reviewed for Books and Culture. This book tells the story of Gandhi’s early publishing ventures in South Africa, and how this work gave shape to a practice of Slow Reading. The other new work on Slow Reading is Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, by David Mikics. Gandhi’s concept of Slow Reading, as described by Hofmeyr, is probably the more robust of the two, and in many ways, the narrative structure of Hofmeyr’s book makes it a more enjoyable read. However, Gandhi’s Printing Press was intended for an academic audience, and does delve deeply at times into the history of the book and print culture, so in many ways it is less accessible than Mikics’s book. In contrast to Hofmeyr’s volume, Slow Reading in a Hurried Age is aimed at a broader audience, and is simpler and clearer in its single objective: to define a way of Slow Reading. On account of the hope that we find in the practice of Slow Reading, and of the instructive and accessible nature of Mikics’s book, we have named it our 2013 Book of the Year.
The structure of Slow Reading in a Hurried Age is quite simple: a critique of our fast culture (“The Problem”), followed by an introduction to Slow Reading and how it offers an alternative to speed (“The Answer”), a meaty chapter on Mikics’s 14 rules for Slow Reading, followed by a series of chapters exploring how one might slowly read various genres of literature (novels, poetry, drama, essays). Since the problem of speed is a major theme that we address here in the pages of The Englewood Review, I won’t say much about Mikics’s chapter “The Problem,” except that it is a delightfully concise description of the ways in which our culture has been diminished by speed. Mikics focuses especially on what we have lost as the evolution of internet technology has led us to read faster and faster.