What are Slow Books?

“Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.”(1)

“Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.”(1)

One of the most successful global movements in the past quarter-century has been Slow Food. The organization is dedicated to promoting local food traditions, encompassing the growing, production, cooking, and convivial enjoyment of the foods we eat. Conversely, Slow Foods argues that fast food and mass-produced agriculture represent a threat to our health and quality of life. Slow Foods has over 100,000 members in more than 150 countries.

The success of Slow Food is prompting a number of readers to ask, “why so much emphasis on what goes into our mouths and so little on what goes into our minds?”1 In a 2012 article for The Atlantic, journalist Maura Kelly pays homage to the Slow Foods Manifesto of 1989 by proposing a “Slow Books Manifesto” that calls on readers to set aside just 30 minutes of the reading day from newspapers, websites, magazines, and even non-fiction books, in order to read literature. Why literature, and not, say, a peer-reviewed quantitative study in one of the behavioral sciences? Because, Kelly argues, “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.”

Kelly’s contention is supported by a 2013 study published in Science, in which experiment

C.S. Lewis, early advocate of Slow Books: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

C.S. Lewis, early advocate of Slow Books: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

participants who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction, non-fiction, or nothing at all) scored significantly higher in tests to identify the emotional state of people in photographs, a skill known as Theory of Mind (ToM). The study’s authors contend that “Readers of literary fiction must draw on more flexible resources to infer the thoughts and feelings of characters. That is, they must engage in ToM processes. Contrary to literary fiction, popular fiction …tends to portray the world as internally consistent and predictable. Therefore, it may reaffirm readers’ expectations and so not promote ToM.”3

Since 2008, the Library Book Club has been promoting slow books by encouraging the reading of literary classics as well as contemporary works that may become classics. This month, we are reading one of the best-selling slow books of all time—Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.4 Dr. Peter Fraser, professor of literature and cinema in the College of Arts & Sciences will lead our discussion on March 27. If you have been feeling that too much of your daily reading can be characterized as empty calories, we invite you to join the Book Club on March 27 and at future discussions for more nutritional fare.

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1Maura Kelly, “A Slow-Books Manifesto” The Atlantic, March 26, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/03/a-slow-books-manifesto/254884/.

2Kelly, “A Slow-Books Manifesto.”

3David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind,” Science 342, no. 6156 (2013): 378.

4David Mitchell, “David Mitchell on Historical Fiction,” The Telegraph, May 8, 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/7685510/David-Mitchell-on-Historical-Fiction.html.