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If you’re reading this, please slow down

Why we should stop viewing life as a competition

Image Courtesy of Akshay Hallur, Flickr
by Sam Moore

A while ago I saw an advert for the app Blinklist-Nonfiction Books on TV. If you don’t know what Blinklist is, it’s essentially a collection of roughly fifteen-minute summaries of bestselling non-fiction that you can read or listen to without having to take too much time out of your day. It claims to be your guide on your journey to becoming your best, most intelligent self. It is an app born from the fast-paced, hyper-focused attitude that has come to define our age and the big business mentality that you can never slow down and have to fill every second of every day with something related to your work. It is designed for people who want to brag about what they have learned but can’t be bothered taking the time to learn it. It’s essentially the Wall Street equivalent of the kid who didn’t want to read Of Mice and Men for their GCSE English exam and skimmed the SparkNotes the night before. You know who you are.

If it isn’t obvious, I’m not the biggest fan of Blinklist and the attitude that it perpetuates. I like to read, and I like to take my time with a book. But even within the book-loving community, a similar sort of attitude has crept in; the idea that speed reading is the ideal. 

Now, if you are a speed reader, I think that’s great. Enjoy your reading and a part of me is jealous at how many books you can get through in a month. My problem is with the mindset that can be adopted by many people who can read so quickly.

Reading becomes a competition, where you gloat if you read ten books a week and chastise yourself if you don’t.

I think both Blinklist and the competitive speed-reading community have missed the point. To someone who finds themselves having this kind of attitude towards literature, I would ask: Why are you reading? What do you hope to get out of the book in your hands, or the audiobook in your ears, or the article on your phone or laptop?

The tragic irony of Blinklist is that, while it claims to be setting you on the path to self-improvement with countless titles you can effortlessly enjoy, it is most likely having the opposite effect. The longer you spend on a text - especially a writer’s original words and not a third-party summary - the more information you will actually retain. Constantly flicking from subject to subject will not only leave you with just a surface level understanding of the text, but it will also damage your attention and your ability to retain the information you have already taken in. You will read less and less and remember less and less of what you have already read. This has been an issue I have found in my own reading and it’s something that I want to combat and not see actively encouraged. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Blinklist per se, but I am strongly opposed to the marketing campaign that pushes it as a replacement for reading. If you are going to use this app, then use it as a way of finding out about interesting books and the ideas they discuss. Then go out, buy the book, and read it for yourself.

When it comes to speed reading, you may be getting through more books than the average person, but you’re really only getting the bare bones basics of the plot. In my opinion, that’s only one side of the coin when it comes to reading. The other side is how the author constructs that plot, the depth and breadth of literary devices that they employ. These can only be discovered if you take the time to really dig into the words on the page. Reading shouldn’t have to be a competition. If it takes you a little longer to reach the end of a book, don’t beat yourself up about it. It will not have been time wasted if you truly enjoyed everything that book had to offer.

Life keeps getting faster, and that’s not exactly a bad thing, but we’re not made to go full speed all the time.

Reading is one of the few things that allows us to slow down and give our brains a chance to breathe, and if you truly believe that you have no time for that then I think you need to seriously reconsider how you are spending your time. If you go full throttle all the time, you will not become a more interesting person by default and will eventually burn yourself out. Take a step back once in a while and enjoy all that a good book has to offer.

And now that you’ve finished reading this, feel free to go back to the start and read it again. Slowly.


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