We Now Interrupt This Program...

A brief break from my posts about this summer's Penland experience, occasioned by my discovery of the blog slow reads. Glancing through the New York Times' books blog, Paper Cuts, I read a comment to a post about the lack of good essays in the current crop of literary blogs. The author recommended several blogs that he felt provided just that. One of them was slow reads. I plan to dig into it further, but the main conceit of the blog, the pleasures of reading slowly, struck a major chord. For me, not all books merit slow reading (what, as English majors, we used to call 'close reading' in college): if I'm reading nonfiction, and purely for information, for example, I rarely slow down. But there are books that offer many more rewards to the slow reader than they do to the speed-reader.

I couldn't resist including a few quotes from an essay by writer Teju Cole, reprinted in the blog, and titled, naturally, "slow reader:"
"One day I went to the bookshop and selected a pile of books—Svevo, Kafka, James, Calasso, about a dozen in all—and from each I read page fifty. Naturally, I often found myself in the middle of a sentence at the page’s beginning or end. But these are the fragments from which a life is made, like those snatches of conversation one hears on the subway, which are free-floating pages from a much larger and more intricate narrative. I eventually left the bookshop, late late in the afternoon, and it was as though I had been to the world’s greatest luncheon..."


"As for Love in the Time of Cholera, don’t even get me started. I've read the first hundred pages of that book no less than three times, Saint Ursula is my witness. The first time was out-loud to my wife, three pages a night. Maybe or maybe not I will eventually read the rest; more likely, I’ll go back and read the first hundred again..."


"Life is too precious to waste on fast reading; I bet Neruda says something like that in his Memoirs, but I haven’t gotten to that part yet."
And here's the first paragraph of an essay by Dave Bonta (who blogs at Via Negativa, another blog mentioned in the Paper Cuts comment), about the joys of second readings:
"Reading something for the second time is so much more satisfying than that first read-through. So many books withhold their full treasures from the first-time reader. Not that the first time can't be special too, of course: surfaces are beautiful, and not to be taken lightly. During that first, heady encounter with a text, it is not merely the words that entrance us. The typefont, the design, the texture of the paper, the look and feel of covers and slipcovers, even the smell of the bindings - if new - or the patina that comes with good use: these too are manifest occasions for pleasure and surprise.

"But few of us possess the skill as readers to avoid succumbing to that first-time excitement and finishing the book too soon. And to lay it aside at that point, never to return, would constitute not simply callousness but profound disrespect. Unless the book at hand be some cheap, manupulative thing, in which case even a single reading amounts to little more than "an expense of spirit in a waste of shame," as Shakespeare once said about something else entirely."

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