Slow Words



In his Ted Talk praising the virtues of slownessauthor Carl Honore describes the moment he became aware that he was racing through his life. It was bedtime, his only time each day with his young son, and Carl found himself speed-reading through The Cat in the Hat.

We are in the midst of what Honore calls “road runner culture.” We like things fast. There are advantages, for sure. But there are also consequences, especially in how we read. As a writer, editor, teacher and word lover, I see the impact of this every day.

Each week I assign a published essay for discussion and urge my students to read it twice. Because life often gets in the way of a second review, I allow time for us to read the piece aloud when we are together, taking turns with each paragraph. It’s usually after this second read that I hear writers say, “I didn’t like this piece when I first read it, but I get it now” or “Now that we’re talking about this, I see a structure I didn’t notice before.”

We all do so much necessary skimming of email, texts and headlines that I believe we’re losing practice in efficient reading.

And we’re missing a lot.

I discovered the power of a slow read when I began to study Torah several years ago. Reading the Old Testament line by line can sometimes be an excruciating endeavor – it’s not the easiest read –  but when you unpack sentences at the word level, you can see the wisdom or the questioning in the word choices, the emphasis in the order or how words can shed light on the gray areas. And for those of us who read via screen, it feels good – even grounding – to touch paper and turn pages.

I’m also noticing how much we don’t see —  word wise — in my personal life, too. Even the shortest texts and emails are frequently misread. I’m amazed at how many what-when-where-how-and-whys I receive in response to email or texts that specifically provide these.

There’s no getting around the fact that we like things speedy. But there are counter-movements growing. You may have heard of theslow food movement, a global response to fast food by organic farmers and foodies. There’s also the slow city movement (more park benches and public gathering spaces) and even a slow sex movement (from a 30-second orgasm to slow–motion tantric sex).

I’d like to make a case for the slow read.

Whether it’s a passage from the Bible or Koran, a poem, an essay or short story, magazine feature article or chapter of a book, a good, slow read is the best chance words have to resonate with us. It is, after all, what words do best.

I’ll go one step further and say that I believe that a slow thoughtful read keeps our listening skills whole. Whole body listening keeps us plugged into the moment. It allows an organic flow to and from our feeling chambers. When we rush through reading – a symptom of our overscheduled time – we keep ourselves from our feelings which can take a toll on important human character qualities like tuning in to ourselves as well as empathy and intimacy for and with others. We can easily get out of practice in feeling these. I recently read about a study showing that while screens allow us to read faster, we don’t understand or retain that information in the same way as we do from a printed page.

So it isn’t such a leap to say that reading can positively impact emotional, spiritual and even physical health.

Save the fast read for street signs, social media feeds, last night’s scores and blog posts like this. Give yourself the pleasure of one slow read a day.

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