Raise your hand if you've said these words: "I want to read that book, but it's too long!"
I've said this myself, even though it reflects a sentiment that makes no sense, when you think about it. If you're planning to read a book, who cares how long it takes to read it? Who cares if you spend six months reading one book, or one month reading six books? Is this a race? Who's keeping score?
In grad school, in my defunct book club and now in this job, I learned to read faster and faster. Out of necessity, I came to value speed and quantity. I gobble books.
Now I want to teach myself to slow down.
I think back to when I was younger and how I read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It took as long as it took. I think that is the most satisfying kind of reading there is — immersing yourself in a book and not coming out until you're good and ready.
And so on New Year's Eve I made my only resolution of 2022: I vowed to embrace the Slow Read.
The Slow Read has to be of a book that I am not obligated to read, something I am not trying to gulp down out of necessity. It has to be something that I would read purely for pleasure, for the language, the story, the humor, the oddball characters. It has to be something I could thoroughly immerse myself in.
At first I thought, Dickens? And then I thought, no. Thackeray.
On the evening of New Year's Eve, I started reading "Vanity Fair." It's actually not a particularly long novel — not as long as, say, "War and Peace" or "Dombey and Son" — but it's still impressive. The 1950 Modern Library edition I own clocks in at 730 pages (with some of Thackeray's own wood engraving illustrations, what a gift). The print is small, the prose style old-fashioned, and I knew I would need to be patient. Patient I usually am not.
I surprised myself by reading most of New Year's Day. Three weeks later, I am still reading, and it's such a delight. I had read "Vanity Fair" back when I was in my late teens, and while the cunning, self-serving Becky Sharp remained etched in my mind, the rest of the novel had sort of disappeared.
I'd forgotten how funny the book was, how acerbic, how sharp the satire. I'd forgotten about the friendly asides from narrator to reader. Such as: "I know that the tune I am piping is a very mild one (although there are some terrific chapters coming presently) ... "
Thackeray used words and phrases that were unfamiliar to me as I read, and instead of glossing over them, assuming I'd discern their meaning from the context, I now stop each time and look them up.
What does it mean to have one's name in "Debrett"? What does the term "flung a main" mean? And come to think of it, what exactly, is a vanity fair? I look them up, I go down various Google rabbit holes, I put down my phone and pick up the book again.
Maybe this is something that most of you do as a habit. For me, my habits have gotten too goal-oriented over the years, too deadline-driven. Reading "Vanity Fair" slowly has been a great gift to myself. And when I'm done? On to "Dombey and Son." Not that there's any hurry.