How to Read Slowly

Early on, reading became for me a way of life–
joyous, fascinating, refreshing, challenging.

I’m thankful, for my sake, that I read a borrowed copy of James Sire’s book How to Read Slowly.  It slowed me down.  Instead of marking and highlighting passages and turning pages, I read with a journal and pen and copied copious notes and quotes.  Instead of zipping through 179 pages in three evenings, it took me almost a month to complete. 

Sire writes for readers on every level.  If you like the idea of reading, but haven’t finished a book in a year, this book is for you.   If you enjoy reading, but sense there are better books, Sire will guide you.   And if you, like me, can’t not read, you will get a great refresher course on how to better do what we can’t escape doing. 

How to Read Slowly is a simple book.  He devotes a chapter each on reading non-fiction, poetry and fiction, followed by a chapter on contexts and one on finding the time.  Simple.  Really.

I was immediately captured by the dedication: To my father who in his eighties still reads voraciously.

Sire doesn’t just tell you…he shows you.  His chapter on poetry would make the most reluctant reader of poetry want to dip his big toe in the pool of poems.  Here’s a sample:

The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams

So much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Simple enough, right?  Yet Sire asks questions and makes observations which make me want to jump up and click my heels!  Visually, what do you see in this poem? Sire concludes, “Williams’s poem is like a still-life painting.  Quality presents itself quietly and yet persistently.  And, though we cannot say why we see, we see.” 

Excellent questions, superb commentary, quotes that express what I’ve always felt, more book titles to read: that’s what you will find in this wonderful read.

We will just have to realize that ignorance will always
be our lot and then get on with the task–often
a joyful one–of learning what we can
with the time and abilities we have.

You see, I have a problem. I read too much.
I pay attention to plot, image, character and theme
when I should be paying attention to wife,
sons and daughters, the peeling house paint
and the leaking toilet tank.
Actually, I need advice
about how to spend time
not reading.

Here is where I believe reading becomes of most value.
We are not just bifurcating our lives into the dull
pursuit of information and world view on the one hand
and the exciting pursuit of sheer entertainment on the other.
We are putting together what should never be split–
excitement and knowledge, joy and truth, ecstasy and value.
Indeed, in such moments of reading we are living the good life.

Indeed, great books teem with peoples and lands,
with ideas and attitudes, with exuberance and life.
Let us take our fill, doing it slowly, thoughtfully,
imaginatively, all to the glory of God.


7 thoughts on “How to Read Slowly

  1. I’m rather surprised you haven’t shared this before now! Although I have been a voracious reader most of my life, lately I haven’t made time for it. I must admit, very sadly, that TV has taken some of its place. I think I need to buy this one (I might not read it till after I go to the writer’s conference, though! ). Thanks!

  2. @LimboLady – It’s been published by a few publishers.  The one I read (Dan’s copy) is the picture in the post.  I would get the most recent edition, hoping that he updated  some of the recommendations. Under periodicals he recommended Eternity.  Do you remember that magazine?  There were some funny jokes when it stopped publishing.  “Eternity is no more.”  Very sophomoric (reminds me of all the Moody Monthly jokes) but made me chuckle.

  3. This is one of the key ‘textbooks’ my husband uses with his senior Bible class. We were blessed a few years ago to attend a conference with James Sire and enjoyed dinner conversation with him and his wife. Glad you’ve shared this 🙂

  4. References to this book keeps showing up in my reading.For example, in the introduction to Bless This Food, George Grant references Sires’s definition of worldview as an illustration of the cook’s paradox: an appreciation for the potential and the risks of creation.Yes, I’m adding How to Read Slowly to my wishlist.

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