From the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lindsay Waters, the executive editor for the humanities at Harvard University Press, is calling for a “revolution in reading” by asking people at all levels to read slowly for the pleasure of the words, as opposed to reading quickly to synthesize the information.

This seems like a brilliant idea. In my teaching of university students (mostly writing courses), I find that they are able to synthesize material and engage readings in abstract ways, but they are ill-equipped to deal with the materiality of language — seeing how the words on the page work, or using words to make a logical argument or describe a vivid scene.

Here’s an excerpt from Waters’ essay:

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. If there is any truth to the analogy, it provides grounds for concern.

I want to ask what reading would look like if we were to reintroduce, forcefully, the matter of time. Let’s leave Evelyn Wood behind, and let’s leave Franco Moretti behind, too. 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?

Nietzsche defined philology as the art of teaching people “to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow.” If we look at the dynamics of what I call “slow reading,” we might be able to explore the values of a methodology that has links to what was once called “close reading” — but that goes beyond close reading in a number of ways that might prove particularly valuable today. The one thing necessary is that we put aside our normal adherence to punch-clock time, a universal measure that has us all in its grip.

The most skillful writers are always playing with our timing as readers, for example by retarding our progress through their works, causing us to linger and pay closer attention than we might have wanted. The late literary critic William Empson said that the poet uses the physical properties of words not to stop us, but to make us dally through the great amount of thought crushed into a few lines.

The full essay is behind a paywall.

Some other interesting links:


Book review: ‘A War of Frontier and Empire’

First published: Sunday, October 7, 2007, in the Albany Times Union

sibleyAs President Bush tries to shape his legacy in regards to the Iraq war, he should pick up David Silbey’s engaging history “A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902” (Hill and Wang; 272 pages; $26).

Though both were wars of choice, the details are quite different. Still, the generalizations that can be gleaned from Silbey’s account are eerily familiar: a quick and stunning conventional military victory turns into longer-than-expected guerrilla warfare; a failure by the United States to understand its enemy; a sense of racial superiority that enflames troops and politicians in Washington; and a native population whose loyalties seemed to change depending on the time of day.

Continue reading “Book review: ‘A War of Frontier and Empire’”

Twitter names as Halloween costumes

One of the things I’ve come to enjoy about Twitter is the ease with which people can change their names, especially around Halloween. It’s like an easy avatar costume.

For example, here’s mine:

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And here are some others I like:

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What are some of yours?

Lincoln in the Bardo and the impossible audiobook

audiobook_ilOn paper, it sounds like something magnificent: master short-story writer George Saunders’s very first novel! An examination of a moment in the life of America’s greatest president!

As Penguin Random House says:

George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

And then there’s the audiobook: 166 characters! 166 voices!

“The first truly blockbuster audiobook? …  it’s going to be incredible”

Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo and the impossible audiobook”

Close reading: ‘Epiphany’ by S.E. Venart

Here’s a poem that has stayed with me, Epiphany by S.E. Venart:

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Continue reading “Close reading: ‘Epiphany’ by S.E. Venart”