Last Friday, I realised just before leaving work that I hadn’t properly charged my Kobo for the 3.5hr journey to my mother’s cottage where I would be spending the August long weekend. Luckily, I lamented to the right person: my boss, who kindly offered use of any ARC of my choosing!

Looking through the pile, I found one that I had just had approved through NetGalley and was already waiting on my temporarily defunct e-reader. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen turned out to be the perfect light read for the bus–I read about a third of it in that single sitting. I couldn’t put it down, and it was definitely a refreshing break from the more serious novel I’m working through (We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver), but more than that I was surprised at the speed at which I was reading.

I always thought I was a fairly slow reader, with occasional bursts of “speed-reading” pulpy books. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore; I think rather than being a slow reader I often choose more ambitious books that require a lot of reflection and introspection in spite of their page counts. This isn’t to say that a book’s merit lies solely in it’s ability to inspire deep thought; sometimes I want a book to be a simple, pleasant escape that I don’t have to think too much about. Still, I always felt intimidated by friends of mine who zip through three books a week, keeping annual reading goals that make my unambitious goal of 50 books seem piddly in comparison. The one thing that always consoled me is the knowledge that instead of skimming and jumping ahead, my tendency to subvocalise (especially when reading fiction) actually works to help process what I’m reading on a deeper level.

The emotional response when taking in each sentence, word, syllable at a time would be akin to an art lover looking at a masterpiece and appreciating each individual stroke the painter made. The overall impression is one way to take it all in, but if a work is carefully crafted so that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole, are we not doing a disservice to the artist by staggering on focused on the goal of finishing and moving on, rather than savouring reading for its own sake?

Maybe this is just another way of saying “slow reader”. Maybe the measure of one’s speed should not take into account simply one’s beginning and ending a sentence, but also measure the reflective period between paragraphs. Perhaps then those of us that seem to take weeks reading a single book might not feel so envious of extensive readers who are on to something new every few days.

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