The Pleasure of Slow Reading

The best books are the most painful to read. They pull you in two directions at once. You want to read slowly, to enjoy the language and let your mind seep into the images the language creates, but you also want to read quickly, not to get to the end but to find out what happens next all the way till the end. A good football match is the same way. You want to enjoy the skill and the play making, but you can’t—not until you know who wins, because winning is the point of the game. But if your team wins, you’re celebrating; if it loses, would you go back and watch the match again? Speeding through great books, I promise myself that I’ll read them again. This time, I’ll read quickly so that next time I can read slowly. But I never do go back. Once read, always read. I’ve only read a few books a second time. I’m more likely to open up a favourite book and read a few pages in a random spot than to read it cover to cover. The author knows this. The author pulls me along, teasing me forever with the next page while I’m reading this one. I don’t have time to sit down and spend the night on one page because I must keep going. Writing is the art of communicating information sequentially. Reading is an addiction to time. People who enjoy music, painting or cinema are not limited to receiving information bit by bit. They can step out of time. They have many sounds and details to absorb at once. We, readers, are doomed to consume our art letter by letter. Writing is the severest addiction because our authors hook us and then spoon feed us just the right amount of drug to keep us alive and craving more. They are not just dealers. They take pleasure in our agony, in our inability to read slowly.

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