slow reading

A Slow Reading Project

Until five minutes ago, I had no topic for this week’s post and considered skipping it altogether. Then I heard a program on CBC Radio One about the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. Last Friday, on the way home from a shopping spree, I stopped into the Anglican cathedral near downtown Victoria to listen to a tiny part of a week-long reading of that Bible version, organized to celebrate the anniversary.

I confess to nearly complete ignorance of the Bible. I went to a Catholic school from age six to twelve, where for some reason we did not read the Bible, in any version. We studied the Catechism instead. Having a retentive memory, I was very good at memorizing sections of the Catechism, but most of my exposure to the Bible over the years has been in the form of snippets and extracts in books and musical compositions.

So I thought (ten minutes ago now) — why not? Why not read the good old KJV on its 400th anniversary? I could do it bit by bit at odd moments, like most of my reading these days. And there is actually a copy in the household book assemblage (not a collection or library, if you recall), so I really have no excuse not to. At worst, I will see familiar phrases in their original context, and I may even learn something. It will definitely be Slow Reading.

Fall is a good time to undertake ambitious reading projects, or, for that matter, writing projects. The garden is at least semi-dormant, and once the Great Leaf-Raking Dance is done, it needs little attention. Darkness comes early and weekends are frequently rainy. I suppose that’s why NaNoWriMo happens when it does. I began writing seriously in November of 2000 and have had a fondness for that month ever since. Have I actually joined NaNoWriMo? No, because, rightly or wrongly, I am allergic to organized efforts, and don’t want to feel pushed to write just because it’s November. Besides, right now I am not haunted by anything that wants to be written. Instead, I will continue editing Islands of the Gulf (the second novel in my Herbert West trilogy) and in odd moments, I will read the Bible.

Books for Slow Reading

Yesterday I heard about the idea of slow reading (on CBC Radio 2). I  read a couple of internet articles about it, and got to thinking about books that might lend themselves to slow reading.

A comment on Patrick Kingsley’s Guardian article, “The Art of Slow Reading” said that few books published today are worthy of slow reading. “Read old books,” this comment said. I think there’s something to that. Much of the advice dispensed to writers these days seems to be geared for speed — hook the reader and keep him or her moving from scene to scene before they can escape. Many current books do that, but sacrifice much in the process. They are shallow and not memorable. Once read, they are forgotten. They are never re-read. What can you expect of books that are really Products from a giant marketing machine?

The hallmark of the Slow Read is that you are sorry when you finish reading it and want to read it again, perhaps many times over the years. Slow reads should be meaty and substantial. That suggests long works, weighty tomes of 500 pages or more. Many of my favourite books for re-reading are just that.

Before I get into the list I will just say that it is representative of nothing but my own idiosyncratic whims. These are books I have read more than once and can envision reading again.

In no particular order, but starting with fiction:

…And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Les miserables by Victor Hugo

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Girl in a Swing; Maia; and Watership Down, all by Richard Adams

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Gormenghast and Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake


Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

The Outermost House by Henry Beston

And for gardeners:

Herbs and the Earth by Henry Beston

The Essential Earthman and One Man’s Garden by Henry Mitchell

Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi

My Weeds by Sara B. Stein.

It was fun running around the house to my various stashes of books, looking up all these titles and authors. In the process I found many more books that I would like to, and probably will, read again some day.

Finally, for those of you with e-readers, I will mention my own novel, The Friendship of Mortals, which I would unabashedly recommend as a Slow Read (or even a fast one). You can find it at: