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Here’s Another Reason Not to Fear Short Attention Spans: The Slow Reading Movement

5068602295_8094c99eb6_oEarlier today I posted an argument against authors writing for shorter attention spans. I argued that attention spans weren’t actually getting shorter; instead, readers will stick with a book which interests them no matter the interruption.

I still think that is a good argument, but it’s not the only one I could make.  An article in yesterday’s The Telegraph crossed my desk this afternoon which reminded me of the Slow Reading Movement.

The Telegraph’s article focuses on slow journalism and not slow reading, so it doesn’t actually address the points we are discussing today. Luckily for us I’m familiar this movement. It’s not new, and has already been covered in-depth elsewhere.

The slow reading movement is a response to the same issues which I was discussing this morning, the same issues that some authors are thinking about addressing by writing for shorter attention spans.

This movement is the yin to the speed reader’s yang. Its practitioners believe that developing a slow and practiced reading style improves comprehension and increases enjoyment. Or as Ottawa-based John Miedema, author of Slow Reading, put it: "If you want the deep experience of a book, if you want to internalise it, to mix an author’s ideas with your own and make it a more personal experience, you have to read it slowly".

Advocates also say that slow reading reduces stress levels (this is probably true). I would be a follower if I had the time, and I think so would most dedicated readers. Judging by the WSJ coverage last September of a slow reading group, the bar for membership is low:

Once a week, members of a Wellington, New Zealand, book club arrive at a cafe, grab a drink and shut off their cellphones. Then they sink into cozy chairs and read in silence for an hour.

The point of the club isn’t to talk about literature, but to get away from pinging electronic devices and read, uninterrupted. The group calls itself the Slow Reading Club, and it is at the forefront of a movement populated by frazzled book lovers who miss old-school reading.

Can you imagine a life so frenetic that you cannot concentrate for an hour of reading without making it into an event?

I spend nearly that much time each night reading before bed (or at least that is the plan), so I cannot.

But that doesn’t matter. The important point here is that readers are seeing the same trends which worry authors, and are responding to those trends by trying to reverse the trends.

Not all readers are trying, and fewer are succeeding, but there is enough uncertainty in this area that I think it would be wrong for authors to assume that short attention spans are here to stay, much less change their writing style to accommodate the expected trend.

More Reading

  • Slow Reading movement wants you to slooooow down, read better (MobyLives)
  • Reading is not a race: The virtues of the ‘slow reading’ movement – The Answer Sheet (The Washington Post)
  • The art of slow reading (The Guardian)
  • Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress (WSJ)

image by Jayel AheramStressedTechnician

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jjj May 11, 2015 um 5:45 pm

Is anyone that does that a writer? Are focus groups for every page next? Assuming they aren’t doing that already but in today’s world who knows….

Slowing Down to a Human Crawl | janetkwest May 17, 2015 um 8:06 am

[…] Here’s Another Reason Not to Fear Short Attention Spans: The Slow Reading Movement […]

Tom May 20, 2015 um 8:42 pm

I went to a session of the Slow Reading group in Wellington , New Zealand. I didn’t get what I wanted to out of it. Like you Nate, I don’t need an excuse to read. But people there did I guess. I was going for the conversation afterwards, which is meant to part of it according to the group’s description. I said Hi to the person next to me, and they responded, with Hi, then I sat awkwardly for a few minutes before I escaped.

Bewusstes Lesen: “Slow Reading” auf dem Vormarsch » August 10, 2015 um 5:15 am

[…] Magazin Delayed Gratification auf die Spitze, die der “Telegraph” gerade vorstellte (entdeckt von Inks, Bits, & Pixels). Das Print-Magazin befasst sich mit Ereignissen, die mindestens drei Monate in der Vergangenheit […]

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