Patience, and the art of reading

At a time where we glued to the phone screens or computers, we cruise websites, we skim and skip. We glance for a brief moment at whatever catches our eye and then move on. The Internet has caused a revolution in the way we read. Friends and foes of technology agree that our relationship to the written word has changed forever. Even devotees of the Internet often confess to being frustrated by what happens when they are online, they waste hours of time every day with distractions, and learn little beyond some handful of facts that are soon forgotten. David Mikics book “Slow Reading in a Hurried Age” reminds us of another mode of reading the kind that requires our full attention and that has as its goal not the mere gathering of information but the deeper understanding that only good books can offer. This book is an excellent vade mecum for anyone who yearns for a more meaningful and satisfying reading experience and wishes to sharpen reading skills.

David Mikics a professor of English at the University of Houston has designed his book as an introductory course for beginning readers. Beautifully & unabashedly edifying. It offers chapters like “The Problem” and “The Answer”, David confronts the true dimensions of the digital revolution which has radically changed everything that has to do with reading. Unless we think soberly about how to control, and at times to counteract, the growing influence of digital technology on our lives, we will not be able to pursue the work of worthwhile reading. After these two chapters  David goes on to “fourteen rules which are somewhat dyspeptic and defensive polemic about the contemporary media landscape, besides he has set many examples of how to approach classic novels, poems, and short stories.”

At first it sounds anti-internet but on reading, David is merely directing our attention to the kind of reading that the internet trains us to do. There is nothing else like ‘Slow Reading in a Hurried Age. Its rules are quite wonderful. There is much solid wisdom and penetrating advice in these pages. David, an inspired author has brought his rich pedagogic imagination to life in this book, which teaches us to fall in love again with great literature. The examples are wonderfully apt and wide-ranging. In this fast-paced world where everything is just a click away more and more readers are choosing to scroll and scroll rather than to give their full attention to the written words, believes David Mikics. The book aims to demonstrate how the ‘tried-and-true methods’ of slow reading can provide a more immersive and fulfilling experience. The author’s writing is fluent and passionate throughout the book.

Back in 1960s, it was predicted that television would make us a post-literate society, able to think only in images. The rise of the Internet, however, has turned that expectation on its head. While we are certainly saturated in images, even more saturated in text. No news stand or library could hope to deliver the kind of access to writing that the Internet makes possible at the click of a button. Websites have multiplied the venues for serious discourse about books. And the Internet has made us all writers, of e-mails, Facebook, and Instagram status updates and tweets. To express skepticism about this bounty, to suggest that the Internet takes away as much as it gives is to invite charges of elitism. In many cases the internet is supposed to be enemy of reading. It presents a seeming infinite volume of choices. But when we plunge into this electronic ocean of possibilities, we often feel that choice has been taken away from us.

The antidote to this franticness, David argues slow reading is a protest against the ill effects of hurried text consumption. “Slow reading is part of the new idea of slowness, the answer to the frazzled nerves and sometimes witless frenzy of the linked-up world we live in David writes. The book is a guide to becoming a great reader. This is a very hard thing to teach so much of what happens .when we read is internal and instinctive, and it is hard to transform reactions into rules. But David manages to do exactly that, in part by not being afraid to state things that will strike an experienced reader as obvious. Why should you read a book? Many millions of people in the world can’t read, and of those who can, read very few books. It’s easy to fill the day. When you’re not working, doing chores, or talking to friends etc by surfing the Internet, skimming the headlines of news stories, and checking social sites but none of this activity is reading in the sense David mean. Scrolling on face book pages, scanning an e-mail or a text message is fundamentally different from the activity of reading as David will describe it to you. Reading is a craft a practice. His aim is to provide you with the tools you need to become a better reader. Reading better means reading more slowly. There is a quiet movement afoot on behalf of slowness: slow cooking, slow thinking, and yes, slow reading. In reaction against the breathless pace of our computer driven world, writers on social trends have begun to extol the virtues of a more meditative, involved approach to many parts of our lives, and reading is no exception.  Slow reading is as rigorous as it is full of unexpected delight. If you’ve picked up this book, you already love reading but often you don’t have time for it. Too frequently, and especially at the end of a busy day, reading becomes flipping the pages without finishing any of its articles.

Eventually David’s arguments are intended for concerned teachers, parents and scholars etc., who recognize that constant use of digital technology has negatively affected our minds attention spans and their ability to work independently on challenging tasks. This book offers practical advice about how to increase the curiosity and commitment of youthful readers and how to guide for the overburdened, hurried person who encounters “texts” all the time scrolls face book, tweets, short online news pieces but who wants something more rewarding, something that only slow reading can achieve.

Today more than ever, we find ourselves wrapped by the shallow promises of digital technology, as it offers ever more rapid, more ingenious, and more unsatisfying ways of keeping in touch. Instead of staying up to the minute, we should step back and think about what Virgina Wolf, like so many others, celebrates the rewards of slow reading. Getting lost in a book may be the only way to find what we need.