“Slow Reading”… It’s Good and Good for You!

By Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System

Remember when growing up your mother would say when you didn’t want to eat or drink those awful, nasty (insert that one vegetable, fruit, or snake oil concoction you particularly loathed), “Do it because it is good and good for you!” You didn’t know it then, but when you grew up you discovered she was right (I’m still not so sure about cooked cabbage though because of the smell). Well listen up, when she told you should turn off the cartoons, or today to put down that game controller, and read something, she was right on the mark about that too!

The science is in on reading, again. The research shows not just reading is good for you, but “slow reading” is even better! At the Darlington County Library System, we agree. We see the difference “slow reading,” that is reading each line of text on a page, makes. According to a recent article in Mic, “just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%, and numerous studies have shown that reading keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age. One study even found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers.” You can see the enjoyment children get from reading or being read to in their faces. We have so many active seniors who come to the Library to find something enjoyable to really read, not to skim through. It is a pleasure for staff to talk with visitors to the Library of all ages about what they have read and what they look forward to reading.

The question we are often asked is “are all formats of reading of equal benefit? Nothing sparks debate faster among those who enjoy reading as to which format is better, a paper book or an e-reader? Futurists (those who predict the future based on current trends) and e-reader users predict the demise of the paper book in our lifetime. What may be a harbinger of things to come is the nation’s first all-digital, book-free public library system that opened in San Antonio, Texas a year ago. One reporter noted, it “looks like an orange-hued Apple store and is stocked with 10,000 e-books, 500 e-readers, 48 computers, and 20 iPads and laptops.” In its first year, it had about 103,000 visitors and checked out 68,000 e-books. By comparison, our Hartsville Branch circulated over 161,000 items and had over 131,000 visitors last fiscal year. Are San Antonio’s all-digital branch’s numbers impressive when you consider it is located in a major metropolitan area? Paper book users note it is the better format for many reason, one being it is low tech. I love the cartoon where the confident e-reader says to the book, “It’s over book. You are an inferior technology. Your big, clunky format is irrelevant. Just a nip of this flame and you would be gone forever!” The book’s response is just to reach over and tap the e-reader’s off switch and shut it down. So ends the irksome e-reader and the story. So what does science say? Let’s not get rid of paper books so quickly.

Apparently, reading in print helps with comprehension! The Mic article cites a 2014 Norwegian study that found that “readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback.” The study said the feedback the sense of touching a Kindle gives you “does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.” An e-reader can visually create the image of a page turning, but the “inability to flip back to previous pages or control the text physically, either through making written notes or bending pages, limits one’s sensory experience and thus reduces long-term memory of the text.” Maybe it is the sensation of the paper page that makes the difference. Then again, maybe it is not.

With the advent of computers, tablets, smartphones and e-readers, our reading habits have changed. We tend to skim text on a screen according to a 2006 study. People tend to read what is on a screen in an “F” pattern. They read the entire top line but then only scan through the remaining text along the left side of the page. Skim reading is nonlinear reading. The study says “nonlinear reading reduces comprehension and actually makes it more difficult to focus the next time you sit down with a longer piece of text.” A Tufts University researcher believes that this “superficial way” of reading is making it more difficult for us to sit down and immerse ourselves in a novel. Maybe the problem is not so much the format, paper book or e-reader, as much as it is a habit of “skim reading” that is the problem.

What is the solution? Stop skimming and read all the text! How can you do it? Join the “slow reading movement” with a good book, paper or e-book, from the Darlington County Library System. “Slow reading” requires an undistracted focus on reading each line of the text. Advocates recommend “at least 30 to 45 minutes of daily reading away from the distractions.” A “slow” or linear reading style requires you as a reader to experience the author’s words, savor their meaning, and create mental images from what you read. On a practical note, it improves your ability to concentrate, learn new words, and comprehend what is written.

Our fast paced, high tech world is changing how we as individuals live our lives. It is said that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. After World War II, knowledge began doubling every 25 years. Today, it is doubling every 13 months. The prediction is our human knowledge will double every 12 hours! There is no reason to panic as a good portion of the knowledge being generated now involves a grumpy cat or some other feline doing something “cute,” dogs, selfies, Justin Bieber tweets, celebrity gossip, video games, YouTube videos, online only commentators, and other ephemeral stuff. But even with filtering all the fluff out, there is a fantastic amount of knowledge available to us. To get a handle on even a part of it all, we had to learn to skim read to keep up. Maybe it is time to step back, take a deep breath, and start to practice our “slow reading” again. The Darlington County Library System can help you find just the right book for your “slow read,” regardless of whether you prefer a paper book or an e-reader, because as your mother might say, “it’s good and good for you!”

[Ed. Note: Of course, we would like to add (according to unnamed sources) newspaper readers are not only more intelligent, they are also more attractive, healthier, live longer, far more amusing and have a better vocabulary than consumers of other media news outlets.]

Author: Duane Childers

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