We live in a time when time has become more “valuable” because it has become more scarce; our lives have intensified, e-mail and texting seem to have made around-the-clock responsiveness de rigueur, essentially stealing more time, and social media are stealing buckets of time we might otherwise use, reading, socializing, cooking, rearing children or smelling the roses.
This erosion of time has resulted in a greater need for the on-demand economy because, yes, you guessed it, we have a lower tolerance for having to wait for something. What this does to our psyche or the wiring of our children’s and grandchildren’s brains I don’t know, but I feel that with this erosion of time, we also erode our ability to enjoy and savor life as it comes to us. After all, who wants to rush through life with blinders on when we have only one life to live?
Years ago, the slow food movement was becoming a hip thing—an antidote for sure, to the fast food industry and TV-dinners, but it was also a way to convince people that paying attention to ingredients and the way you cook them, and preferably slowly, brings out flavor and improves quality of life overall. Someone, the other day, mentioned to me that there is now such a thing as “slow scholarship”, and, as I was revisiting my book shelves, forcing myself to shed books rather than hold onto them (because yes, my kids don’t even have the patience to read real books anymore…), I was thinking about slow reading and how I really would like to reread some of the classics and great authors by slowing down, by really delving into the text, no, losing myself in the text, without me having to think about dinner, a work deadline, the deck that needs a new coat of paint, or horrors, realizing that I should write another blog to make sure my followers aren’t dropping by the wayside.
Slow reading, I realized, could be defined as close reading; English majors know what I am talking about, but close reading to me, in my studies, always made me come to the realization that taking a text apart sentence by sentence really adds to the reading experience in a very profound and exhilarating way. When I used to have memoir writing sessions at my house, I would sometimes bring in a newly published memoir and if the writing was bad, a close reading really brought that out, and my fellow memoirists loved this form of deconstruction: by slowing down, by really looking, they saw the flaws and learned how not to write, or rather, write better.
So, the other day, I picked up Those Barren Leaves by British author, Aldous Huxley.
It was a book that I didn’t dare toss or give away to the local library, because it had my late father’s signature in it, under which he had diligently scribbled the date: 1951.
My dad read this book when he was 25, and I am almost 50, and while I have read Huxley’s famous visionary book Brave New World, it seemed high time I’d catch up with my dad and read this rather intellectual but satirical novel. Besides, I love those classic Penguins (see picture above)—the Penguin look is just a work of art: the typography, the simple bold colors—no, not just nostalgia, just solid and enticing branding, if you ask me.
Now, the novel is uneven and a good editor might have tightened up the different sections here and there, but if you ignore all that, and just try to focus on the lines in front of you, you stumble on some great stuff—like a scene that resonates so deeply with you that it feels like you experienced it yourself, or an image that is so powerful that you can see it as if it were a movie reel. It’s in those moments that time stands still and we feel most alive (did TS Eliot call them timeless moments?). We can only accomplish this experience, and slow down life (and make it more momentous) if we leave our own lives behind, or rather park it outside of the pages we’re holding and fully immerse ourselves in the world that the author tries to pull us into.
To give you a sense of how awesome Aldous Huxley can be, I am going to give you a passage of Chapter Six and make us slow down, so we can really enjoy the text. You don’t even need to have much back story here, except that the novel is set in Italy and that the characters are all a group of English dilettantes who might want to be seen as a “smart set” but they are all a bit ridiculous in one way or another, and yet, here and there, there is a level of humanity to them, too, that makes you sympathize with them as a reader. One of them is Mr. Cardan, a mystifying character, who gets lost in the Italian countryside at dusk. And I am going to stop right there, to hopefully make you eager and keen to explore this passage with me in my next blog. Are you in? Do you want to come on this slow reading journey with me? Let me know—by responding to this blog… I need to know who my readers are, so don’t be a stranger and drop me a line. Maybe you’re bored to death already, which is excellent feedback, too.