John Miedema, author of Slow Reading (May 11-22)

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John Miedema, author of Slow Reading (May 11-22)

Edited: May 12, 2009, 9:57 am

Please welcome John Miedema, author of Slow Reading. John will be chatting on LibraryThing until May 22nd.

Edited: May 11, 2009, 8:57 pm

Hi, welcome to the Slow Reading chat. I'd like to kick things off by noting some of the comments and reviews that have been written so far.

Editorial in the Hutchinson Leader:

Book Review by Leigh Anne Vrabel:

There have also been four reviews right here at LibraryThing, and maybe some more coming. I was pleased the book offered a few surprises.

I look forward to your questions or observations.


May 11, 2009, 9:45 pm

Hi John,
Just started to read your book and finding it very interesting. I am one of those who turns their laptop 90 degrees to read lengthy pdfs, and finding it a better experience but still unsatisfactory. I have yet to try a Kindle or Sony reader so not sure if that would be the way to go. The connection/differences between reading in print and online are interesting and I wonder if you are aware of research into reading that studies the cognitive science side of things? You may cite research in your book but perhaps you could recommend some slow reading in that area? :-)

Edited: May 11, 2009, 9:47 pm

Okay I've ordered my copy. It gets here Thursday. I'm interested in the topic, particularly from someone who isn't a luddite fossil. If there's one thing doing Greek and Latin it's the value of extremely slow reading.

Do you suggest people without books start with your free chapter?

Edited: May 11, 2009, 10:29 pm

Hi Tim (freemoth), thanks for getting this chat rolling, and starting with the cog sci perspective. I come to the subject with a cog sci perspective, with an undergrad in psychology, and a minor in philosophy of mind. When I went to library school, it was immediately apparent how a psychological perspective was missing from the discipline.

In chapter 2, I cite a study by Dillon that found that in the early days of the web, people read faster in print than online. This is fascinating. Though the explanation was not entirely clear, I can't help but think that people had not yet learned the cognitive strategies for scanning online. I think it would be difficult to replicate that finding today, at least for experienced web users. It suggests that our information processing patterns have changed since the advent of the web.

Chapter 4 in Slow Reading is called "The Psychology of Slow Reading". Carver's work will be of interest to researchers because of his extensive empirical studies on reading rate. He uses the metaphor of gears, which fits nicely with my take on slow reading, i.e., we slow down for increased comprehension and pleasure.

Personally, I am fan of Nell's research -- "Lost in a Book: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure." This goes beyond cognitive psychology and into research on reading as an altered state of consciousness. Fits with my experience.

Edited: May 11, 2009, 10:29 pm

Hi Tim Spalding, Thanks for mentioning the free online chapter. That chapter is called "Slow Reading in an Information Ecology", and is a good one for anyone who might think the book is just another ode to tweed, pipes, and parchment. I like to think I offer a Generation X perspective on the subject, being fully acquainted with both print and digital technologies.

May 13, 2009, 9:40 pm

I'm really impressed by the reviews. I'm glad the book offered some surprises, and appreciate the feedback about the academic writing style.

Here's a quote from the 5th review by richardderus: "He notes that many information professionals take an all-or-nothing view of the practice of reading: A slow reader must be a defective reader, and in need of intervention and help."

I always considered myself a slow reader, and somewhat envied those who seemed to read so fast. As I considered the whole range of my reading practices, I had to acknowledge I often read extremely fast, with news headlines, on the web, reading computer code, etc. I just hadn't counted those experiences as reading. When I applied the same skills to books, I could read them quite fast too.

Questions for slow readers:

1. How do you and others perceive your slow reading?
2. Do you always read slowly? (Maybe you are a closet fast reader?)
3. Would you read faster if you could?

May 15, 2009, 11:54 am

Your questions answered, John:

1) Slow reading is necessary for challenging nonfiction, whether it's archaic language or complicated ideas that require savoring and struggling mentally. It's a a good trait to find in fiction, which I can consume at many times the speed of a nonfiction read. If a fiction books slows me down, like, say Mervyn Peake's florid perfection in the Gormenghast trilogy, it is because I am puzzled in a good way, working to comprehend the complex and satisfying comparisons, poetic phrasing, and gripping character motivation and plot movement.

2) Some nonfiction doesn't deserve to be read slowly. Many contemporary authors of nonfiction books lack a sophisticated writing style and often write DOWN to an audience and often repeat themselves. They may have some good ideas and observations, but their works don't deserve or require slow reading.

3) I would NOT read faster if I could. My dad learned to speed-read in college and used to burn through textbooks and his favorite genre, science fiction, at breakneck speed. Law school, however, brought his speed-reading career to an absolute end. He was unable to skip or anticipate words in complicated cases with hefty use of Latin and legal terms. I can still burn through a fun fantasy book in a day or two, while a good nonfiction book takes me a week or more. The slow read is almost ALWAYS the more satisfying. Even when I read a Terry Pratchett book fairly quickly, it doesn't reach the fever pitch of another, less sophisticated book.

I hope this sparks some more conversation here. I think it's a wonderful topic you're exploring!


May 15, 2009, 1:47 pm

I've always been a fast reader, and slowing down requires an effort for me. I am one of the tweedy luddite oldsters who won't read fiction on a screen voluntarily. I find that it takes me a LOT longer to read fiction digitally because I can't refer back to passages I have "aha" moments about without losing myself almost irreparably in the process, and because I don't like the sustained reading of blocks of uninterrupted text onscreen.

That said, I'd get a Kindle in a heartbeat IF the downloads became cheaper than a used book. I'd sample new authors that way. And reading the Times onscreen isn't bad...I keep up with my former hometown paper, the Austin American-Statesman, online; I read The Economist online too.

But your book, which I enjoyed, makes me pause and reflect on the reading culture we are building. My daughter is 28 and an avid book-reader in a large variety of subjects; a very slow reader due to dyslexia; and phobic about sustained screen reading. She is surrounded by friends in Austin's high-tech sector, and they behave exactly as she does: Info = screen, pleasure = page. I question, based on this unscientific and self-selected sample, if a lot of the carryin' on we see isn't simply bad statistical gathering and/or analysis....

I should mention that her three kids are pretty much in the same mold she's poured out of, reading-wise. Maybe there's something to the genetics-plus-nurture idea....

Edited: May 16, 2009, 12:22 pm

Thanks Wattsian for the comments re: fiction/non-fiction. Fiction too often gets denigrated as merely entertainment. There's nothing wrong with entertainment value, but fiction can often be as challenging and rewarding as non-fiction (or more). Too many adults stop reading fiction. They explain they do not have time for it because fiction is not "true". Is music "true"? We do not stop listening to music.

May 16, 2009, 12:22 pm

Hi richardderus. Re: Kindle. I think the Kindle and other similar products make sense in some contexts. Ultimately, I think e-readers will co-exist with print books. As I discuss in chapter 2, one of the great features of print books is the absence of the bells and whistles of digital technology.

I agree about the price of e-books. Given that the costs of production have dropped due to digital technology, you would think the book prices would come down. Then again, I'm still waiting for music prices to come down. Likely not anytime soon. While I know that people fileshare music, I wonder if the practice occurs to a similar extent with e-books?

May 16, 2009, 3:24 pm

>11 jmiedema: jm: I don't think the practice of e-book file sharing is as easy as the music industry inadvertently made music file sharing.

Prices don't tend to come down on tech until obsolescence, I've noticed. I dislike and resent this. I am now getting around to getting CDs because the prices are coming down, and I won't get one of those idiot mp3 player doomaflatchies until the next big thing is forcing the greedy rat bastards to charge 25 cents a song instead of a buck.

Who was it said these yahoos need to be rich? Off my money? Is there no concept "enough" in these goofballs's brains?

Oops. /rant

May 19, 2009, 11:13 pm

Here is one more question before the chat ends this week. Consider it extended research on my part.

Chapter 4 is called The Psychology of Slow Reading. In that chapter I talk about slow reading as a state of consciousness. The research by Nell shows that some readers may experience an altered state, an entrancement taking him or her to another place. In this state, reading may seem effortless. This topic is at the heart of my interest in slow reading, and I'd enjoy hearing about your experience of reading as an altered state.

What is it like for you when you become deeply involved in a book? Do you lose awareness of the page? Do you lose track of time? Does it have therapeutic value, i.e., do you come back feeling restored or better prepared for the world?

May 20, 2009, 11:30 am

"What is it like for you when you become deeply involved in a book? Do you lose awareness of the page? Do you lose track of time? Does it have therapeutic value, i.e., do you come back feeling restored or better prepared for the world?

Absolutely yes to all three. And I'm not a slow reader. It does very much depend on the book, on my mood and surroundings, but given a suitable opportuity I'm gone.

Almost exclusively fiction, normally somethign I'd describe as 'heavy' or 'epic' or 'complex, convoluted', and much mor elikely ot happen on the first time I read a book rather than subsequent re-reads, although even then it will happen with "good" books. I'd guess I'm probably reading about 60 paperback pages an hour compared to my more normal 100+ when I'm not so absorbed.

I'm completely lost in the book, visualising the scenes and living in the characters heads, I've no perception of actually reading the words or turning the pages or listening to the music* until an unruly sentance construction or outside influence disturbs me. Even then I'll very quickly fade back into the book.

*I've missed bus stops due to reading, I've had to put CDs onto shuffle because I only hear the first track or two. The rest play but I don't hear them when I'm reading. I will acknowledge other people's questions - and have no recall of what it was they asked.

May 20, 2009, 5:21 pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

May 22, 2009, 7:32 am

Thanks for the chat. I can be reached anytime through Best wishes.