When Should I Read Quickly or Slowly?

In my book Lit! I talk about reading with a transmission. “Reading is like driving a moving truck through mountain highways. There are times to chug uphill in a low gear, and there are times to coast downhill in a high gear. Each book has its own terrain” (111).

Another helpful way to think about it comes from German sociologist Hartmut Rosa in a recent Q&A session —

There are two forms of reading. I’m a very slow reader and now I think that’s quite good. If you read slowly your mind wanders around and you don’t really know what the result is. And then there are many technologies of speed-reading — very focused, very attentive. So you get the information but you block being touched by something. You don’t want to be touched. You want to be efficient and focused. And my claim is that if you have to be fast you develop a kind of instrumental stance towards the world, a muted relationship which makes you very efficient. It doesn’t mean that you’re not attentive, but the quality of attention changes because it becomes directed and intentional. And it becomes very difficult then to get into a mode of resonance because resonance is a state of relating to some person or something, like a book or it could be a piece of music, which affects you, you let yourself be affected, which also means you are vulnerable. And you never know when it happens and what the outcome of it is and how long it takes. So if attention needs to be very focused and very instrumental, the quality of attention changes from the resonant towards a mute form of relating.

Both are useful but for different aims:

  • Quick reading — efficient sifting with the mind (muted instrumentality)
  • Slow reading — inefficient soaking with the affections (heart vulnerability)

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