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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Slow Books?

The title of my last post was tantalising – but perhaps a bit opaque. Clearly it was an allusion to the slow-food movement which is not only a fun-way of making a protest against globalisation but one which
strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It was the first established part of the broader Slow Movement in protest against “fast food”. Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products. The movement has since expanded globally to over 100,000 members in 150 countries. 
I wasn’t aware of the phrase “slow books” – it just came to me in a creative flash. I was not really surprised, however, to learn that the phrase has already been coined – although fairly recently as I see from this March 2012 article in The Atlantic and this (rather local) 2009 website. In 2009 there was even a small book entitled Slow Reading 

The Atlantic article, however, seems to take a fairly restrictive definition of a “slow book” namely a literary classic and actually discounts non-literary books – on the argument that stories are better for one’s brain -
Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories to recall characters and plot details. In fact, as Annie Murphy Paul noted in a March 17 New York Times op-ed, neuroscientists have found plenty of proof that reading fiction stimulates all sorts of cognitive areas—not just language regions but also those responsible for coordinating movement and interpreting smells. Because literary books are so mentally invigorating, and require such engagement, they make us smarter than other kinds of reading material, as a 2009 University of Santa Barbara indicated. Researchers found that subjects who read Kafka's "The Country Doctor"—which includes feverish hallucinations from the narrator and surreal elements—performed better on a subsequent learning task than a control group that read a straightforward summary of the story. (They probably enjoyed themselves a lot more while reading, too.)
Let me push, however, for a wider definition of a “slow book” . 
"Slow food" is an entire process - it is the preparation, production and consumption. And abhors the formulaes, specialisation and slave labour which the logic of modern production and ownership systems require eg in MacDonald's and Amazon 
I would therefore suggest three elements define "slow books" 
  • a certain sharing of the reading experience, whether through book clubs, reading groups or blog sites. 
  • Non-literary  books eg history, the arts and the social sciences should certainly be included - if written clearly and showing originality. We are talking intellectual sustenance here! We should, as a result of the digestion, feel better and see the world in a different way!
  • And slow books are those which have emerged from a process which includes small publishers; independent and second-hand bookshops; and which honours and sustains the actual crafts involved in making a book including book design, typeface and binding skills. 
"Slow books" (like slow food) stand against marketing and "commodification" (sorry about the word!) and are about the relationships of real authentic people - whether as writers, readers, craftsmen or suppliers. 

update; a review of a new book - Slow Reading in a Hurried Age


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