Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Slow reading

I sometimes used to say that my work with university students (with UCCF) involved teaching them to read. I was only partly joking. It came under the moniker of Bible study, but so much of that was actually slowing students down to read what was there. In the common three-part summary, observation, interpretation, application, we naturally jump straight to interpretation (if not application). I want to use the text for meaning in my life. I do not want to live in the text for its meaning. 

So we had techniques and encouragement to help us to see what was there rather than what we assumed was there. To see what was there to appreciate the style and language of the delivery (the medium certainly shaping the message, if not having one-to-one correspondence). To see what was there and the shape of its structure. To see what was there in the choice of its words. To see what was there so to live in it, breathe its air, feel its distinctiveness. To see what was there so as to sit under - even in - the text; not to master it, to sit over it and analyse it. 

I did not want the students merely to spot pegs on which to hang a reader's own ideas, or trampolines from which to bounce to the group's application. I worked to help them to learn to slow down and truly read a passage as if the author had something of definite worth from which to learn, truly wanted to communicate and actually found that words, phrases, paragraphs, books, genre, et al., were adequate tools to use to do so.

I have been concerned as I've noticed that my reading of pieces on the internet has corrupted my reading ability and style. My eyes now slip into skimming text, not merely jumping words, but sometimes paragraphs. I must consciously control my eyes, hold them back, force them to notice the words on the page. So I read with a pencil in hand - my notes and underlinings are frequently not of significance, but marking them has kept my reading slow, intent on listening to the author. We consider one vain and arrogant who, rather than listening to a friend speak, is busy thinking of his next witty/powerful/intelligent contribution.

Admittedly, I have fewer problems reading slowly when the author is a wordsmith. With one who enjoys words, one can easily spend a while, savouring a delicious turn of phrase, or breathing the air of words well chosen. Then it is a joy to read aloud. And reading aloud slows us down to hear the author. 

I've just today discovered a lovely piece by Lancelot R. Fletcher (what a name!) on Slow Reading - the affirmation of authorial intent - introduced by an article on the topic in the Guardian. Fletcher's piece draws out some of the cultural and logical connections: he tells his students to treat the text as if written by God. He's not actually speaking of the Bible - but makes fascinating connections. He does start by quoting Nietzsche, who possibly came closest as an author to thinking that he was to act as a god, but that aside - read the article. Slowly.

1 comment:

mama said...

sorry no time - just give us the main points plz ;)