Last year, the internet was buzzing with the idea that we can – and should – read 200 books a year, inspired by Warren Buffet’s advice for those who want to emulate his success:
‘Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will…’ (Source)
Plenty of advice was offered for how to get through the 200 books, most of which focused on tricks to increase reading speed.
‘Force yourself to read faster,’ Lifehack suggested. ‘When you speed up your reading you naturally take in the concepts behind the words rather than thinking about every word. With a bit of practice your brain can eliminate the need to vocalize the words and you gradually get better at it.’ (Source)
I love reading: it helps me to relax, it inspires me, it educates me, it connects me to other people and other cultures and other times. So of course I would love to read more books. But I was a little dubious about training myself to read more quickly, because I felt that would hinder the benefits: to relax, to be inspired, to be educated, to be connected.
Last week, the Guardian published an article entitled ‘Why you should read this article slowly’. Professor Joe Moran writes on how the pleasures of slow reading are undervalued in our noisy, busy modern world:
‘Reading is constantly promoted as a social good and source of personal fulfilment. But this advocacy often emphasises “avid”, “passionate” or “voracious” reading – none of which adjectives suggest slow, quiet absorption.’
Professor Moran offers several compelling reasons to read slowly in order for the process of reading to have greater meaning and impact. I especially like this one: ‘Slow reading gives someone else (the writer) the gift of your time’. So, slow reading is respectful of the creator of the writing – and of the self, too. You decide that you deserve to take the time to read in such a way that you can effectively process the words.
Coming back to the benefits of reading – to relax, to be inspired, to be educated, to be connected – it strikes me that all of these are heightened when you really devote yourself to the reading; when you make the space and time to read with all your attention, with a mind that is open and enquiring.
So perhaps instead of aiming to read 200 books a year, we should read just 50 or 20 or 10. Instead of taking pride in a ‘books read’ tally, instead of trying to amass a big library, instead of endlessly adding to the ‘to read’ list, we should focus on reading for meaning and for personal growth. Slowly. Quietly.
As the American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler put it: ‘In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.’