Shimer College

December 18, 2013

“Slow Reading in a Hurried Age”

This book, authored by David Mikics, is both wonderful and frustrating.

Wonderful? Because it says what many of us seem to be thinking: slow down, think, pause, read. Frustrating? Because it reads in a kind formulaic fashion and as though the author’s main idea is that the people he is speaking with might be … . well, slow.

Reflecting on this, I suspect Mikics is truly attempting to get his readers to slow down as they read, thus illustrating the point he is making. Thus, I suspect it is not his intent at all to treat his readers as though they are (always already) slow. His intent is not embedded exactly in his style or even in his review of wonderful pieces of literature. (He introduced me to some I shall, indeed, read.) His intent is to encourage just what his title says so clearly: slow reading in a hurried age. 

Several things I found delightful: (a) a description of why reading well includes using a (preferably print rather than digital) dictionary. I loved this because it read like a description of someone I know, and also because it noted a few of the new words that the OED has recently included. I also found delightful (b) the notion that reading is inherently dialogical, that is, a conversation between author and reader. Neither, in Mikics’ view, can or ought be passive. Neither agreement or disagreement is the goal, connecting is. And, taking one another seriously.  Self-reflection (c) is a crucial part of all this. And, the emphasis on self-reflection (and transformation) is another delight in the book. This includes reflecting on why certain books or authors just annoy us. That some annoy us – but that ignoring the annoyance is not such a good idea – itself delights. I also loved (and I mean loved)  the section on writer’s revising their works (d). Totally reassuring. In addition, you may want to know that Mikics himself revised the title of his tome; perhaps thinking about the change from Lost in a Book: How to Recover the Pleasures of Reading to Slow Reading in A Hurried Age itself teaches us. Mikics’ reflection on revision encourages stepping a bit out of any given version to think about the spaces between. 

I also liked the moments of humor that poked up out of Mikics’ text. The author’s point is not that reading is entertaining or fun, but that it is important in a variety of ways. And yet, he does seem to remember that humor is important as well. 

All in all, Slow Reading in a Hurried Age is  well worth slowly, patiently, reading. It is, in some ways, like liberal education itself.