‘I want to savour every word’: the joy of reading slowly

1 month ago 16

There is thing astir churning done books that induces envy and adjacent admiration, ne'er much than astatine this clip of twelvemonth erstwhile piles of finished tomes are splashed crossed societal media. Bragging rights look to spell to those who person work tons of books and work them rapidly – however galore times person you seen idiosyncratic boast astir finishing 10 books successful a year? What astir five?

But determination is powerfulness successful speechmaking slowly, thing the Chinese-American writer Yiyun Li tells her originative penning students astatine Princeton University. “They say, ‘I tin work 100 pages an hour’,” she says. “But I say, ‘I don’t privation you to work 100 pages an hour. I privation you to work 3 pages an hour’.”

That’s the velocity Li is blessed to work at, adjacent if she is re-reading a acquainted text. “People often accidental they devoured a publication successful 1 sitting. But I privation to savour a book, which means I springiness myself conscionable 10 pages a time of immoderate book.” On an mean day, Li, champion known for her novels A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Where Reasons End, reads 10 antithetic books, spending fractional an hr connected each title.

Yiyun Li.
‘I don’t privation to rush’ … Yiyun Li. Photograph: Christopher Lane/The Observer

At that gait it tin instrumentality Li up to 3 weeks to decorativeness a novel. “When you walk 2 to 3 weeks with a book, you unrecorded successful that world,” she says. “I deliberation speechmaking dilatory is specified an important skill. Nobody has ever talked astir it, oregon taught maine that. I’m a precise diligent reader. Even if it’s a precise compelling book. I don’t privation to unreserved from the opening to the end.”

Elizabeth Strout, the Booker-shortlisted writer of Olive Kitteridge and the Lucy Barton books, is besides taking books astatine a much tranquil pace. “I was ne'er a accelerated scholar [but] I deliberation I work much dilatory than I utilized to. This is partially to savour each word. The mode a condemnation sounds to my receptor is truthful important to maine successful the full speechmaking experience, and I ever privation to get it each – similar erstwhile you work poetry.”

These words deed a nervus due to the fact that I americium an archetypal impatient reader, hopeless to person finished a publication arsenic soon arsenic I start. I privation to cognize what happens – now. Ever since I started keeping way of the books I work (because I was sick of forgetting what I’d read) I’ve wanted to work more, to work faster.

So, successful an effort to travel Li’s advice, I resoluteness some to linger and to juggle much than 1 book, contempt my fearfulness of not being capable to travel much than 1 plot. I commencement with The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison L Strayer, and Alan Garner’s Where Shall We Run To? Both are memoirs, which wasn’t intentional. I walk astir 45 minutes astir days with the Ernaux, speechmaking 30 oregon truthful pages; little connected Garner due to the fact that it’s shorter. This is astir apt inactive excessively fast, but aged habits are hard to break. Spending clip with both, I’m struck by however they look to speech to each other, Garner’s acquisition of increasing up successful Britain during the warfare chiming with elements of Ernaux’s agrarian French childhood.

The aforesaid happening happened with my adjacent Ernaux, I Remain successful Darkness, translated by Tanya Leslie, which I work alongside Catherine Newman’s forthcoming We All Want Impossible Things. I alternate, 10 oregon truthful pages of each publication each day, until I’m done; this clip the Ernaux is shorter, astatine hardly 60 pages, truthful adjacent astatine this gait it lone takes maine a week to finish; the Newman, astatine 200 oregon truthful pages, takes maine triple that. I had nary thought they some dealt with deaths: of her parent successful a infirmary for Ernaux, and for Newman, a champion person successful a hospice. Dwelling for days successful Newman’s darkly comic communicative based connected the decease of her existent beingness person dials down the strength but it means I wallow longer successful her pain, which feels much similar I was sharing her experience. Again, the books, though precise different, consciousness arsenic if they were portion of a conversation.

A fewer pages into Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I chose due to the fact that my 14-year-old lad precocious declared it his champion ever book, I privation I could velocity up. I find the lingering dystopian images tricky to process contempt his aureate prose. Going dilatory means I halt to look up words: “duff” (decayed substance connected a wood floor); “skifts” (a airy flurry of snow). Despite trying to dawdle I can’t rotation retired the 300 pages beyond a week; I request them to beryllium over. Happily, On Hampstead Heath, by Marika Cobbold, which is astir journalism, emotion and sausage dogs, provides immoderate invited relief. And for thing antithetic again, I person Nicole Flattery’s forthcoming debut, Nothing Special, which is partially acceptable successful Andy Warhol’s New York. By present I’m 2 months into my experiment, and person slowed down to Li’s 10 oregon truthful regular pages.

Taking my clip with aggregate books astatine erstwhile feels liberating; arsenic if I person support to prime up books I’ve spent years meaning to tackle. I’m not promising ne'er to cane thing again but I truly deliberation Li is connected to something. Oh, and I’m astatine 85 books for the year, not that I’m counting.