The title of the book might suggest a boring slog, but I found Slow Reading to be a quick, easy, and fun read. In it, John Miedema weaves his own reading and experiences through a thoughtful look at past and current trends in publishing and technology, couching personal reflections in a wide range of theories (i.e., New Criticism, Reader Response) on the purposes of and psychology of reading. The overarching theme of the book is how people relate to text--how different methods of reading and the form of the text itself can affect the readers' connection to the text. He also discusses less familiar engagement with text, such as the actual digestion of a book as symbolic internalization of ideas.
By describing the various methods of reading (or consumption of text), Miedema emphasizes intimacy with ideas, which he contrasts with `speed reading.' Speed reading, in contrast with slow reading, aims for a quick deciphering of the main idea of a text in the most time-efficient way--reading without full engagement. His equation of speed reading to fast food and slow reading to slow food is apt; we often become trapped by modern life's mandate to live `bigger, faster, and more.' This fast pace doesn't allow for full engagement of the senses or reflection; slowing down allows us to make connections and reflect on their meanings. Like the slow food movement, slow reading is a conscious effort to explore small nuances--the things we miss when we're focusing on efficiency. Miedema does not promote speed reading, but he is actually (and fortunately) a pragmatist, recognizing that every act of reading does not require uncompromised attention.
Miedema cites a number of studies to provide evidence that a book is best for slow reading, but the form of the text is unimportant for quick informational reading, recognizing that print and digital media make up our `information ecology.' He also cites studies that analyze the environmental impact of books and computers for information access. Unfortunately, he never explicitly states the obvious--that buying used (or borrowing from the library) is the least environmentally destructive way to consume books. Perhaps that is a given.
--Adapted from a review originally published in SRRT Newsletter, Issue 168, September 2009, online at [...]