The phrase “slow reading” goes back at least as far as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who in 1887 described himself as a “teacher of slow reading.” The way he phrased it, you know he thought he was bucking the tide. That makes sense, because the modern world, i.e., a world built upon the concept that fast is good and faster is better, was just getting up a full head of steam. In the century and a quarter since he wrote, we have seen the world fall in love with speed in all its guises, including reading—part of President John F. Kennedy’s legend was his ability to speed read through four or five newspapers every morning. And this was all long before computers became household gadgets and our BFFs.
Now and then the Nietzsches of the world have fought back. Exponents of New Criticism captured the flag in the halls of academe around the middle of the last century and made “close reading” all the rage. Then came Slow Food, then Slow Travel, then Slow Money. And now there is Slow Reading. In all these initiatives, people have fought against the velocity of modern life by doing … less and doing it slower.