Saturday 4 September 2010


An article appeared in the G2 section of the Guardian on the 15.7.10. entitled “Read This Slowly.” It was written by Patrick Kingsley.

As a junior schoolteacher for over thirty years, slow reading to me suggests children who have a problem reading and need extra support. However this article is about all of us and our present day reading habits. Research has shown that somebody reading a lengthy online article might only get through a fifth of the article. Somebody reading the same article in hard copy would only get through half. That obviously spurred me on to read the whole of Patrick Kinglsley’s article. It surprised me how my energy levels abated towards the last few paragraphs and I had to really work at it. A little like a mountain climber approaching the peak. It surprises me too that I find myself reading sections of a novel, lets say a chapter of Northangar Abbey, and I wonder, “what was that all about?” Just lately I’m trying to compete with a friend who has told me they read Northangar Abbey in two days and that they have a pile of must read books to get through. “A pile of must read books to get through.” Aaaagh!!!That statement always sends alarm bells ringing. Why don’t I have a pile of books to get through? Am I lacking something? Am I not up to this reading lark? I seem to feel a need to devour certain amounts of words in a sitting when I do read. The thought is I’ve got to get through this quickly. I’m certainly not up to the hundred meter finalist Olympian fast readers standard though. Am I really understanding what a phrase or sentence might mean, engaging with its full weight and purpose in a text? After all the novelist chose every word and crafted every nuance of phrase and sentence for me to react and interact with. You see, to be honest, I’m not a very good fast reader. And I’m not a good slow reader. I’m a bit of a lackadaisical non descript sort of reader really. I do have my bursts of energy though. I’m getting confused now. I mustn’t lose hope.

Patrick Kingsley reports that academics say, “we are becoming less attentive book readers.” Keith Thomas, an Oxford historian complains that, he is, “bemused by junior colleagues who analyse sources with a search engine instead of reading them in their entirety.”

Our need for immediate information is affecting how we use, interpret and assimilate information. We live in a world of Twitter and Sky News where short statements and news bites without analysis and comment rule. We are not engaging with the content.

When we read something we should take time to place it alongside what we know, be able to put it into context, create knew meanings with it.

There is a backlash to this fast consuming of words. A group of academics are starting a slow reading movement. The sort of reading when you take time to contemplate, mull over, and make conclusions. Those who read novels should always have done this. It is the only way to read a novel, isn’t it?. Those who read and reread Jane Austen slowly over the years, will get a different experience each time. They will bring more experiences to their understanding as time goes by, see characters in a different light, understand situations and characters in different ways, interact with the novel in a different way each time.

This does not mean there are not other ways to read. As a teacher I have taught children to read for different purposes. Reading a history book needs a different way of reading to a novel. I would start with a question or a topic to explore. I teach the children to use the index, to find chapters, to focus on paragraphs , to scan for key words, key information and facts and teach them how to make notes. I do not encourage them to read every word, every chapter. Factual books are a resource that can be gone back to again and again for different things. Reading a novel is to experience what the author wants to say and you need to interact with every bit of it because the novel is a whole experience. When I read a flier put through my door, I look at the heading. If I want more I look further. If I read a book of poetry I will focus on one poem at a time and read and reread the poem working out a myriad of responses to it taking in it’s tone and pace, simile, metaphor and the sounds and meaning, of every last little bit of it.

So, we have to choose our method of reading depending on what we are reading. Most of us looking at Jane Austen sites are novel readers .We read Jane Austen’s novels. We should be a slow reader of Jane’s books to be able to interact fully. I know I need to learn again how to be a slow reader. Perhaps I should go back in my mind to when I learned to read, examining words, even the sounds of words and ascertain the tone and mood . I’m not sure I really notice those things as much as I should. I need to see how a paragraph works and what a chapter really does. I need to examine more closely and take a slow leisurely pace. I know I have never had that habit . When writing an essay for an assignment, yes, I’ve taken things slowly with a book and focussed on it with exhausting lazer intensity. In those circumastances I’ve read and reread but only to save my neck, get a reasonable grade, make my tutor smile, but not for me, not unconsciously, not for my own pleasurable development and understanding and relationship with the text. I’ve got that friend who is getting through a pile of books at quite a pace you see, who is egging me on. And what is sad, I’m not a very good fast reader, probably more of a jogger, but I do need to become a slow reader, again.


  1. Well said! I can see you teach!

  2. My reading habits have changed. I find that I must be engaged immediately or I have a tendency to put a book down for good--something I would not have done twenty years ago. Because there is so much info to read in a limited amount of time, I find it difficult to stay with lengthy passages of overly descriptive matter. (Regardless of the picture the author paints, I have my own ideas anyway.) I am a very different reader than I was before Kindle. I can download a preview sample, and if I am not immediately engaged, I delete it. I am guilty of being a modern reader--I skim. I wonder if my grandchildren will have the discipline to read the books I did: Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, b/c of their length.

  3. These days I skim too quickly to find the information I seek. The days in which I can relax, read a book in its entirety, and savor it are few and far between.