Sunday, July 18, 2010

Catering to the Lowest Common Denominator: The Slow Reading Movement

When I was in school, I remember how much emphasis the teachers placed on speed reading. We were constantly being timed or using tips and tricks to improve our reading times. I'm an avid (and 'rabid') reader - there is nothing I enjoy more than to curl up with a good book, so my reading speed is naturally fast just due to practice. I never liked how teachers were so fixed on speed-reading. I think one should read at a pace that is comfortable to them. Granted, when it comes to second language learning, I can see how you would want to increase your reading speed in order to become more fluent (or at least sound that way). That also just requires practice of reading over and over and over again. No tips, no tricks, no timers - just practice. And I really disagree that speed readers are more intelligent than other readers. If anything, I think that speed readers attained their speed through practice of reading books, magazines, newspapers and/or whatever they could get their hands on and therefore introduced themselves to new ideas. THAT is what adds to a person's intelligence; the speed reading is just a side effect and not really related at all.

As much as I disliked teachers preaching about speed reading, I was horrified to learn this week about the Slow Reading movement. (Wish I was kidding) Seems society and teachers have done a 180 and now believe the way to go is Slow Reading. Apparently the premise is that we are so focused on doing things fast, that we miss the important things in life. And I don't disagree with that. There is a time and place to stop and smell the roses, but in the real world, if you do that all the time, you will be left behind. For instance, for dinner choices - home cooked is a much better option than fast food (and tastier/healthier too). But taking your time on a project for work, not such a good idea.

And the same for this "slow reading" stuff - sure, slow down for technical books, non-fiction science, computer books what have you. They are very dense with information should be read at a slower pace than a fiction novel. But to snail read through a light-hearted fiction novella is rubbish.

In the Seattle Times, the executive humanities editor at Havard says there's a world-wide reading crisis (I agree there) and thinks there should be a "revolution in reading". Yes, encourage people to read more. Don't encourage them to read slowly.

For the most part, I think this whole slow reading nonsense is nothing more than pandering to the lowest level so they don't get their feelings hurt. It's some sort of extension of "everyone's a winner/let's make everyone feel good" rubbish that they are spreading through schools now. Or the "Did I read the bill? I'm a Senator - I don't have time for that" attitude in Congress. I don't care if the students read fast or slow, just as long as they read, but don't you dare make a person feel bad about being a speed reader.

In the Newsweek article, there were some gems of quotes:

"But mostly the “movement” is just a bunch of authors, schoolteachers, and college professors who think that just maybe we’re all reading too much too fast and that instead we should think more highly of those who take their time with a book or an article."

So yes... now reading 50+ books in a year is no longer an accomplishment. And pretty soon, they'll be telling us to think highly of people who don't read books at all. We all just need to slow down, enjoy ourselves and melt all of those fast-moving neurons while we watch American Idol. I'm being sarcastic (mostly) and I get what they are saying about taking your time and not treating reading like a race, but the article goes on...

"Instead, Newkirk says, schools should encourage old-fashioned exercises such as reading aloud and memorization. He says that when he uses these exercises in his college-level classes, his students thank him and tell him that it helps them concentrate, unlike the surfing they do online."

'Reading aloud' in college? Are you kidding me? I had a professor who did that and I was bored to tears. College kids know how to read already (I hope)! Helps them concentrate, my foot.

Then an author of a book about slow reading  (does that seem odd to anyone else? An author promoting slow reading...? Yeah, encourage people to read less and slower and they won't be buying as many of your books... Or maybe he only has the one book and he doesn't care. I don't know...), John Miedema says:

"Slow reading is about bringing more of the person to bear on the book."

Huh? What kind of BS is that? What does that even mean exactly - relating more to the book by reading slower? Sounds pretentious to me...

And then the author admits there isn't any scientific backing to his idea.

"When you bring more of the person to bear on the book -or maybe more of the book to bear on a person in a sense - you develop a more intimate and rich relationship with the information that builds richer memories and richer intelligence."

Believe me, I have a relationship with my books and the information in them. I collect books like some women collect shoes. They overflow my bookshelf, camp out on my bedside table and accompany me to work. And the ones I have, I usually read multiple times. I have rich, fond memories of books I read when I first started to read and many, many more since then. Don't tell me that I don't properly enjoy books because I'm a speed reader. I may read fast, but I comprehend what I read too. It's comfortable to me - slow reading is not and it is distracting. And to claim that it builds a "richer intelligence" after you admitted that there's no scientific evidence to support your idea is poppycock. Reading alone builds intelligence; don't try and promote your idea with silly claims that have no basis.

The author of the article concludes that he's going to start "slow reading" and the worst thing he can think of happening from doing so, "is racking up a few overdue fines at the library". And this after admitting that he placed "in the middle of the pack" in a speed reading test. Sounds like speed reading envy to me.

And another load of BS related to reading: "Liberals Read More Books than Conservatives". Is that why books by conservative authors are always in the top of reading lists (Amazon, New York Times Bestseller)? Or how about books that recommended by Glenn Beck are on back-order by Amazon for months? And why did a certain 50-year-old, 1000+ page book (Atlas Shrugged) suddenly jump to the top of reading lists, sell-out in bookstores around the country and cause libraries to order more copies? Yeah, no liberal I know read any of those... Publications like Newsweek and liberal newspapers are going bankrupt due to lack of readership... Hmmm... just who reads more than whom?


Betsi Rauss said...

And another load of BS related to reading: "Liberals Read More Books than Conservatives".

Just wishful thinking on their part. They so want to believe that they are more intellectual than people on the right.

HMS said...

Hazaa, we'd like to invite you to become one of our Authors in Alexandria. Come compare notes with your fellow ESL teacher on the other side of the country.

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