Save Speed Reading for Emergencies

From a Wall Street Journal essay by Danny Heitman headlined “Save Speed Reading for Emergencies”:

As another summer reading season nears its end, I’m struck again by how few books I’ve finished. As a journalist who often has to read on deadline, I’ve learned how to go through books at a clip. But when I read just for me, I take my sweet time. The teetering column of volumes on my nightstand right now, which includes everything from Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Bomber Mafia” to Roger Rosenblatt’s “Cold Moon” to Alec Lobrano’s “My Place at the Table,” is a monument to my happy, glacial pace.

If she were still around, my old teacher Sister Mary Katherine would be appalled. In my Catholic grade school, she was a big fan of speed reading….

A classroom screen displayed a paragraph or two, a rectangle of light quickly scanning each word to move our eyes along. Why, I wondered, did this dear nun want to train us to read in a flash? I pictured myself sprawled in a gutter as I quickly memorized the license plate of a hit-and-run driver, finally grateful for how my education had prepared me.

I have, happily, eluded such emergencies so far, content as I crack open a book to ramble through the landscape of language as if taking a country drive. I frequently stop to admire a handsome sentence or elegant turn of phrase….

That’s why it took me much of last year to finish “The Splendid and the Vile,” Erik Larson’s bestseller about World War II London. I was relieved, while interviewing Mr. Larson recently, to discover that he’s also a big fan of slow reading. He fondly recalled a long-ago season lingering over each page of John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” an experience now indelible precisely because it was savored.

Such a leisurely reading life has its complications, and the biggest one is the backlog of books that confronts me each year as another summer slips away.

I’ve just added “The Stubborn Light of Things,” Melissa Harrison’s collection of nature essays, to the stack. With any luck, I’ll finish it by Christmas.

Danny Heitman is editor of Phi Kappa Phi’s Forum magazine and a columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate.


Speak Your Mind