Am I reading too fast?
When I read a book, for a brief while, I become that book. It is almost comparable to hypnosis. Books of quality have a certain tone - a voice that draws you into its universe and its frame of mind. And it is not just books, of course, I believe everyone that attempts to binge-watch "Dexter" will notice tangible effects on their minds. This effect is illustrated in a famous psychological experiment by John Bargh. He observed participants walking more slowly than the control group when primed with words associated with old age, eg. 'retirement'.*
The effect of words and ideas is a force to be reckoned with. In 1774 Goethe's novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther" inspired a veritable suicide epidemic with over 2.000 unhappy young killing themselves. The novel got so notorious that it was banned in Bayern, Sachsen, Austria and Denmark-Norway. Consequently, Goethe made the following epigraph in the second edition: "Be a man and don't follow me". A similar suicide wave was observed with the Netflix adaptation of "13 Reasons Why" by Jay Asher, that had the immediate consequence of increasing the suicide rate amongst young Americans by 29 per cent in 2007.
That's pretty wild. Personally, I experience the flip-side of this whenever I read books that inspire me. There were noticeable effects on my productivity while was reading Cal Newport's "Deep Work" or James Clears "Atomic Habits" or Winifred Gallagher's "Rapt". These books stimulate rapid transformation, but unfortunately for me, my time with them was short-lived.
I read at least 50 pages a day and often more - which means that I rarely will be engaged with a book for more than three or four days. Yesterday I finished Ayelet Waldman's "A Really Good Day" and got very excited about the promise of microdosing LSD. Four days ago, I finished Joshua's Foer's "Moonwalking with Einstein" and could not shut up about mnemonics. Whatever I am directing my attention to becomes the clutch of my perception, and although I am still excited about memory training (I am even practising it), the centre stage has been giving to mircodosing.
I dislike re-reading because I generally remember books vividly enough to perceive it a waste of time, but lately, I have started to change my mind. Sometimes it seems I need to re-read a book, not because I forgot its message, but because I need to reexperience the emotions associated with it.
There is actually a real argument for slowing down while reading a book if it conveys ideas that are of practical use to you. Ideas presented in books such as "Atomic Habits" that seriously attempt to change your life, needs to be absorbed slowly both in terms of its information and emotion. This is also why I have never benefitted from reading online excerpts or 'bullet points' that attempt to condense a book to its most central arguments. Without spending time and effort following an argument, you will never understand the significance of a book; hence, it loses its ability to change your mind, thus your behaviour.
It seems I am therefore in need of slow reading a couple of books before next term starts in September. I plan to re-read "How to become a Straight A-student" by Cal Newport and "Atomic Habits" by James Clear, this time at a leisurely pace. Not just to absorb the information, but the motivation that is required for implementation.
The benefits of slow-reading are beautifully summarised by this quote by Abraham Lincoln:
"I am a slow walker, but I never walk back."
*Recent studies question the extent of this effect, after being unable to replicate the study conducted initially by Bargh. The psychologist Stéphane Doyen failed to observe the priming effect observed by Bragh properly due to the use of a slightly different methodology. Doyen utilised an automated system for measuring walking speed, rather than a psychologist with a stopwatch. It might just be that the Bargh study shows the effect of expectations, rather the effect of certain words.