In Defense of Slow Reading

And. . .we’re back. Hope no one died from food-related injuries.

Whenever I have some time off like that I make grandiose plans about how I’m not going to waste my vacation this year. These plans usually involve immense home improvement projects (“I can have that roof off and another floor roughed-out in three days, why not?”), immense self-improvement projects (“I will go 36 hours without taking a drink. . .starting right after this bottle.”), and serious writing goals (“Three days. 90,000 words. Pulitzer Prize. Easy peasy.”). Naturally, none of these things actually happen. I eat like a pig, am continuously drunk for three days, and the house is almost burned down six or seven times. Itdoes, however, serve as a reminder of what my life would be like if I didn’t have The Duchess and/or a job. It’s sobering, let me tell you. Well, not literally. You get the idea.

The other thing I always swear I’ll do is read more.

I don’t read books very quickly any more, and I am amazed sometimes at the rate others consume books. When I was a kid, I read a lot faster; I would stay up until 3AM in my room reading, and tear through several books a week, sometimes. I could barely acquire enough books to keep myself stocked. But as I’ve aged, I’ve slowed down, for a lot of reasons. One, I read several books simultaneously, mainly because I am forgetful and am always leaving books around and forgetting where they are, and then I never have a book on hand when I want one (say, in the bathroom). The subset of this is that I’m lazy, and if I am on the first floor of the house when I want to read a book and I have left my book on the second floor, I will not go get it. I will read cereal boxes instead. No, really.

Two, I actually get paid to do other activities and that eats into my reading time. Between working and writing and cleaning up after my shedding, vomiting, pooping, all-singing, all-dancing cats, there’s very little time for me to just sit with someone else’s thoughts for a while.

Finally, I have the attention span of a gnat. This didn’t used to be true. I used to be able to stare at walls for hours, thinking, but that was before The Internet. Now I have a hummingbird’s brain: Tiny and flitting from thought to thought. I start reading something, and before I know it something in the book about Day Laborers has set me off on a chain of tangents ending with me humming and trying desperately to remember the words to the All in the Family theme song. It’s days, sometimes, before I can safely pick up that particular book again.

I get self-conscious about this because most people you meet in the publishing biz read books at a startling rate – a rate so fast a more cynical man might not believe it possible. Granted, most of thwese folks are being paid, in some way, to read, but it’s still startling. It’s enough to make a man question his own intelligence. Man, if I turn out to be dumber than I’ve always thought, I’m going to be sooo mad.

Still, it occurs to me that in the wise words of Gary Coleman, it takes Diff’rent Strokes to move the world, so I shouldn’t be ashamed of my slow reading. I’m a Slow Reader, and I’m proud! Or, if not proud, I am at least no longer ashamed. Or as ashamed.


  1. DeadlyAccurate

    Wow, it’s freaky how I could’ve written this post. Not the drinking but reading several books a week as a child but now reading multiple books in the same time period and taking a while to finish them. I’m not a fast reader either. In fact, I read at about the same speed as I have since grade school; it’s simply that my books have gotten bigger.

  2. jsomers (Post author)

    DA, You’re right, the length and complexity of the books has something to do with it as well. In the bathroom, for example, I have a book on Arab history, which I chose as medicine for my general ignorance. I’m enjoying it, but it’s not something you knock off in an afternoon while sitting in a chair listening to the rain.


  3. jayf

    Sir Jeff,

    I can identify too, and I work with books also, reading and evaluating, editing and whatnot, so I feel your pain, and am amazed when I can get through a single comic book without distraction or attention waning. Such is our lot in life, to enjoy stories so much yet be painfully slow at getting through them.

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