Slow readery

The last month has seen me finish reading a total of one (1!) book, and a novella-length one at that. But! I have been reading a book so slow and murky that there was no way for me to read anything else, or to skim (which I never do anyway), a book that reads like a prose poem, and is constructed in ‘episodes’ like a TV show. That book is Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Roxanne Carter, and I suspect I will struggle to finish it by the end of this new month of ours.


But is there anything wrong in reading slow? I keep a total of my ‘Endless Reads’, a remnant from a project I started in 2012 to encourage me to read more. I would often take long breaks between books, my imagination satisfied by its stint in a fictional world to the point where I did not feel the need to read, not when there were so many other distractions around. Then laziness, inevitably, or frustration because I didn’t know which book to turn to next, amid hype and the pressures to read those classics I have not yet turned my hand to. But I had become frustrated with my inaction. I love books, love reading, so what was I doing except standing empty handed, poorer for not pushing myself?


In that first year of Endless Reads, I read forty-four books, which may not sound a lot to some people (I have seen ferocious lists of well over a hundred and fifty for some reviewers) but to me, it was too many.  I was reviewing most of the titles, either here or on PANK, and feeling so tired out, unable to fully immerse myself in the music and texture of the words, in the explorations the authors were undertaking. The year after, I read twenty-one books, and felt ashamed. But why?


I will come out now and say it: I am a slow reader. I’m dedicated, and I like to savour what I’m reading, but I just can’t knock back a book a week and live well, and appreciate the text. Books read quickly become a net and the fish of my comprehension are all very small and swim through, panicked, while the rest of me struggles, getting an idea of what is going on but not really appreciating the knots and seaweedy accouterments.


I’m always going to feel that slight ruefulness. Asking myself if one book is too few and if the other book still being read, that prose-poem circling and circling itself, is ‘above my reading level’.  But there is no one to censure me. I am subject to no law regarding how many books read make me a good literary citizen. And if I am pushed to the limit and wear myself out going further, the pleasures and challenges of reading diminish. So I grant myself permission to read slowly. To read endlessly but at a glacier’s pace if the pressure of life demands I do so. Deep channels will cut just the same as if a torrent of reading came sweeping through. I won’t suggest the ‘slow readery’ movement for everyone. But for me, now, it’s the only way I can seem to thrive.


Metaphors, metaphors. But I wonder how it is for you, if you’ve ever kept numbers – or just titles, to remind yourself of times and locations you read such-and-such? Or if you’d never keep a list, or if you religiously do, and eye the totals of others with envy or respect?



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7 responses to “Slow readery

  1. I am an extremely fast reader, which came in handy for school and then subsequent deadlines, but sometimes I envy “slow readery,” as you call it. Sometimes I wish I could slow down and enjoy line by line and when I try to do that, my brain and eyes just start to speed up again.
    There are definitely pros and cons to both. Don’t get discouraged by other people’s read lists. You are taking in all of the curves of the novel that perhaps for someone like me are lost.

  2. I am a very slow reader, which is one of the reasons I prefer short stories and novellas. I’ve always thought that your reviews were so perceptive about the texture and taste of the books you read; I suspect that is a side effect of your slow readery. It’s not a bad thing, at all.

    • That’s interesting that you prefer shorter books. I sometimes find myself getting bogged down with longer ones, but this isn’t always so. Sometimes the writing is enough to carry me along. Like a big wide river inching me to the sea.

      • There are times when this happens to me, and I will be up until the wee hours of the morning to finish a novel (or a collection of short stories).

        But what often happens is that when I read something, some part of my brain goes off on a tangent – “what a beautiful sentence, I have to read that again” or “this seems familiar, where have I read this motif before?” – and then I have to bring my attention back to the book. Then after a while I get tired, and have to put the book down. With short pieces, I can usually get through the piece before that happens. With longer books, sometimes I don’t get back to the book for a while (life….), and then I have to re-read a little back to catch myself up again, which means I don’t get as far… It’s like SIsyphus, the rock keeps rolling backwards….

  3. I can definitely identify with this. I keep a record of every book I read. I used to have a notebook for it but now I use Goodreads. Usually my tally for the year is somewhere in the 20s and I always feel disappointed that I haven’t read more. It’s not as though I’m ever not reading, I always have a book on the go. I think probably I’m a slow reader. I will often re-read a passage several times to fully absorb and appreciate it. This year I set myself the challenge of reading 50 books, I’m already behind! I get a lot of satisfaction out of updating Goodreads when I’ve finished a book – but that’s not really the point of reading, I should probably focus more on what I got out of the experience. Here’s to slow reading!

    • I think its a matter of becoming comfortable with our approaches – but challenges are addictive too. The best we can hope for is the books we do manage to read are good enough to outweigh those we haven’t had time for.

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