Word by word

Reading is one of the most wonderful ways to shut out the incessant calls of the digital age.

In a world of clickbait headlines and scrolling news, the mere act of sitting down with a book can feel like a way of slowing everything down. You may be surrounded by so many distractions that you get a real sense of achievement after remaining still for half an hour to read, ignoring not just the beep of your phone but the constant demands on your time to keep doing more and more.

As Carl Honoré says in his 2004 bestseller In Praise of Slow: ‘The act of sitting down and surrendering to a piece of writing defies the cult of speed.’

All the same, you are likely surrounded by temptations – ever more so in the digital age – to put down that book and attend to a more immediate, fast-lived pleasure. The lure of modern technology is so strong that the distracted brain has to be almost physically prevented from leaving the rich world of the imagination. It’s the reason for the age of the page-turner – buying hook-a-minute novels to assuage that urge for the quick fix. A lot of reading material now matches this demand for speed: short chapters, cliff-hanger endings and triple twists.

I love these books. And I read commercial fiction. Addictive, hook-driven narratives have often saved me from scrolling mindlessly through my phone. I will read any genre and if it keepsme avidly turning the pages then I’m happy. I’m not the only one.

Crime fiction is now the most popular fiction genre in Australia, according to research conducted by Macquarie University.

Although there are benefits in simply sitting down and reading, there are sometimes greater rewards to be reaped by taking one’s time, travelling back over the paragraph once, twice, three times, in order for a book’s true magic to be released in the act of slow reading.

How to slow read:

  • Identify which genre/authors/types of writing are the ones that make you want to slow down. When you’re back in the habit, you can experiment more, by aiming for classics or other books you’ve always wanted to read.
  • Set aside at least half an hour a week for slow reading. Choose a time and place where you won’t be interrupted.
  • Turn your phone down and put it in a bag or a drawer.
  • It may take a few minutes to settle, but persist.
  • If you find yourself racing ahead, return to the previous page and read it again, more slowly.
  • Don’t forget to continue with your page-turners, if you feel you need them, during your non-slow reading time.

Books to get you in the slow reading mood

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Words: Stephanie Lam

This article was originally published in Issue 16 – By the light of the Moon

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