In Defense of Reading Slowly

It has often been said that “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

How to read slowlyThe other night on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Fallon did a piece he called his “Do Not Read” list, probably parodying all the reading lists circulating this time of year. True confessions, we caught this, although I was dozing when Fallon included on his list How to Read Slowly by James W. Sire. My wife succeeded in waking me up just in time to see a close in shot of the book. Fallon’s comment was, “It’s actually a pretty good book. I’ve been reading it for years. I’m only on page 4 but so far, so good.” You can catch the video here and the part on Sire’s book is at the 2:02 mark.

James Sire is actually a good friend whose book Apologetics Beyond Reason I reviewed recently. So I got a laugh out of this for different reasons than most of the audience. I’m also hoping How to Read Slowly saw a spike in sales because of Fallon, that his publicity actually helped. It has been many years since I read this book and it is actually one of the best books on reading I’ve read, better, and more accessible, in my opinion, than Mortimer Adler’s more famous How to Read a Book. I’m relying on memory as well as the Amazon “table of comments” preview (I lent the book out to someone who knows when and it has not found its way back to my library) but here are some reasons this should be on your “To Be Read” list:

1. This is a book about reading better, not faster or more. Sire introduces to the process of engaging books with our minds and entering into the world of the author. He has been one of the leading exponents of thinking “worldviewishly” and one of the things he does is help us look for cues to the underlying premises in whatever we read–what is the view of ultimate reality, the really real, what are the author’s assumptions about human beings and the human condition, what’s wrong with the world and is there any remedy, where is history going, if anywhere, and so forth.

2. Sire wants us to read both sympathetically and critically. He wants us to really understand authors on their own terms, and yet also critically engage their “worldview” in light of our own (and perhaps in the process clarify our worldview as well).

3. As a former English professor, he gives us cues on reading different genres of literature from non-fiction to poetry, as well as how we might read “contextually” to better understand the world of the author, or the world the author is creating in the work.

4. Throughout this, as well as in other works, Jim illustrates his points from a variety of written works. More than once, his use of these has intrigued me enough to seek out those books for myself. I would likely not have come across Stanislaus Lem otherwise, for example.

5. Somehow, Adler’s book seemed to make reading a chore, as helpful as many of his suggestions were. Sire’s book stoked my love of reading and enriched it. His concluding chapter gets at the essence of “better reading” in talking about what to read and when.

Sire inspired me in my own reading life, particularly to engage books more deeply and thoughtfully, and to savor the richness of good books and to allow myself to be changed and enlarged by those encounters. So I hope the publicity, whether through Fallon, or this blog might acquaint an new generation with slow reading. I even hope Jimmy Fallon might get beyond page 4!


3 thoughts on “In Defense of Reading Slowly

  1. Fallon’s done this before, and admittedly it usually has little to do with the content of the book, and more to do with the hilarity of the title. My favorite example is “Amish Vampires In Space”. That is an economy of phrasing that conveys so many conflicting ideas. I’ll have to check out Sire’s book though.


  2. Pingback: James W. Sire (1933-2018) | Bob on Books

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