Slow reading

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Slow reading is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure. The concept appears to have originated in the study of philosophy and literature as a technique to more fully comprehend and appreciate a complex text. More recently, there has been increased interest in slow reading as result of the slow movement and its focus on decelerating the pace of modern life.[citation needed]

Related terms[edit]

The use of slow reading in literary criticism is sometimes referred to as close reading. Of less common usage is the term, "deep reading" (Birkerts, 1994). Slow reading is contrasted with speed reading which involves techniques to increase the rate of reading without adversely affecting comprehension, and contrasted with skimming which employs visual page cues to increase reading speed.[citation needed]

Philosophy and literature[edit]

The earliest reference to slow reading appears to be in Nietzsche's (1887) preface to Daybreak: "It is not for nothing that one has been a philologist, perhaps one is a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading."[1]

Birkerts (1994) stated "Reading, because we control it, is adaptable to our needs and rhythms. We are free to indulge our subjective associative impulse; the term I coin for this is deep reading: the slow and meditative possession of a book." His statement speaks to the idea that slow reading is not merely about slowing down, but about controlling the pace of reading. Slow readers may speed up at times, and then slow down for the more difficult or pleasurable portions of a text.

The importance of personal control over the speed of reading is echoed by Pullman (2004) who argued that slow reading is needed to reinforce democracy in America. Part of its democratic nature is that the manner of reading is not determined by someone else: "we can skim, or we can read it slowly". A similar view was stated by Postman (1985) who noted the character of the ordinary citizen of the 19th century, a mind that could listen for hours on end to political orations clearly shaped by a culture favouring text. Postman warns that reading books is important for developing rational thinking and political astuteness.

Lindsay Waters, Executive Editor for the Humanities at Harvard University Press, declared a worldwide reading crisis resulting from our global push toward productivity. He asserts that young children are learning to read faster, skipping phonetics and diagramming sentences, and concludes that these children will not grow up to read Milton. He foresees the end of graduate English literature programs. "There is something similar between a reading method that focuses primarily on the bottom-line meaning of a story in a novel and the economic emphasis on the bottom line that makes automobile manufacturers speed up assembly lines." He advised re-introducing time into reading: "The mighty imperative is to speed everything up, but there might be some advantage in slowing things down. People are trying slow eating. Why not slow reading?" (2007).

Slow movement[edit]

Carl Honoré wrote the best-selling book about the slow movement, In Praise of Slowness. Honoré's interest in the slow movement began one day in an airport when he saw a book called The One-Minute Bedtime Story. At first it struck him as brilliant — the cure to his nightly tug-of-war with his son’s demands for more stories — then the absurdity of his fast lifestyle called him to his senses. The slow movement acknowledges that "speed has helped to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating" (2004) but our obsession with speed has turned into an addiction. "When you accelerate things that should not be accelerated, when you forget how to slow down, there is a price to pay." Slow reading is recommended as one of several practices to decelerate from the fast pace of modern life. Jennings (2005) also discussed the book.

Slow reading from this perspective is somewhat different from its tradition in philosophy and literature. As a practice for achieving balance, slow reading often involves reading light material at a relaxed pace for pleasure, and not just complex materials read slowly for insight. Also, the slow movement has a strong theme of locality. Most notably, the slow food movement encourages buying local foods. With slow reading, this idea takes the form of encouraging local authors, micro-publishing of materials of local interest, and community building around local libraries and reading events.

The Slow Book Movement was officially founded in Lebanon Springs, NY, in November, 2009, by novelist I. Alexander Olchowski. In the midst of becoming a nonprofit entity, this movement aims to actively promote the act of slowing down to read books. In addition to the Founding Director, Mr. Olchowski, The Slow Book Movement's Assistant Director is Amanda Giracca. [2]


A number of research studies exist on the problematic aspects of involuntary slow reading. For example, Wimmer (1996) found that a slow reading rate in children indicates a lack of fluency and is a predictor of dyslexia. A few studies demonstrate the positive value of voluntary slow reading, the type of reading defined in this entry. Nell (1988) showed that there is substantial rate variability during natural reading, with most-liked pages being read significantly slower. Sherry Jr. and Schouten (2002) suggested that close reading could have commercial application as a research method for the use of poetry in marketing. Contrary to the claims of advocates of speed-reading, there is evidence that subvocalization has no observable negative effect on the reading process, and may in fact aid comprehension (Carver, 1990).

There is a fair body of literature in the area of bibliotherapy, a practice involving the selection of materials for therapeutic purposes. The process often involves emotional identification with reading material, and thoughtful discussion with a professional; as such it is a type of slow reading.

The increasing ubiquity of high-availability, 'always on' instant communication technologies, such as texting and social media like Facebook and Twitter, may be contributing to the decline of slow reading (Casey, 2011).


  • Miedema, John (2009). Slow Reading. Los Angeles, CA: Litwin Books.
  • Newkirk, Thomas (2011). The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
  • Sire, James (1978). How to Read Slowly. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Man ist nicht umsonst Philologe gewesen, man ist es vielleicht noch, das will sagen, ein Lehrer des langsamen Lesens: — endlich schreibt man auch langsam." - Friedrich Nietzsche, Morgenröte: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteile (1881)
  2. ^ Slow Book Movement official website.


  • Birkerts, Sven. (1994). The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Boston: Faber and Faber. Selected passages, Open Book Systems
  • Carver, Ronald, P. (1990). Reading Rate: A Review of Research and Theory. San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Casey, Laura (January 5, 2011). Is deep reading in trouble?Contra Costa Times.
  • Honoré, Carl (2004). In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Changing the Cult of Speed. Vintage Canada. About the book In Praise Of Slow, Carl Honoré
  • Jennings, Lane (2005). Slow Is Beautiful: Living as If Life Really Mattered. Futurist, 39(2) (Mar/Apr 2005): p. 12-13.
  • Nell, V. (1988). The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratifications. Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 1988), pp. 6-50.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich (1887). Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. 2nd Edition.
  • Postman, Neil (1985). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. NY: Penguin.
  • Pullman, P. (2004). The War on Words. Guardian Review, November 6, 2004. On-line
  • Sherry, John F, Jr. and Schouten John W. (2002). A Role for Poetry in Consumer Research. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(2), 218-234.
  • Waters, Lindsay (2007), Time for Reading, Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(23). On-line (subscription required)
  • Wimmer, Heinz (1996). The Early Manifestation of Developmental Dyslexia: Evidence from German children. Reading and Writing, 8(2).

External links[edit]