Tag Archives: Slow Books

Library Book Club history outlined in new book

by Jerome Reading, Patron Saint and Heavenly Intercessor of Libraries

Before the Second World War, most academic librarians considered the promotion of extracurricular reading to be a core component of their professional duties. Typical of this approach to librarianship was Edwin Osgood Grover, Director of the Library at Rollins College, who taught a popular course in recreational reading and in 1926 was made “Professor of Books” at the college.

Since the 1950s, academic librarians have increasingly seen themselves as information specialists, and the promotion of reading to be the mission of public libraries. In recent years, however, a number of academic librarians have joined researchers who question the healthfulness of consuming unprecedented amounts of “fast” information produced on the internet and in social media. Taking a cue from the globally successful “slow foods” movement, journalist Maura Kelly, in a 2012 article for The Atlantic, proposed a “Slow Books Manifesto” that called on readers to set aside 30 minutes of the reading day from newspapers, websites, magazines, and even non-fiction books, in order to read literature.1

The Slow Book Revolution: Creating a New Culture of Reading on College Campuses and Beyond,2 published in September, is also a fruit of the idea that, just as foods grown and harvested with care for slow enjoyment are healthier for the body than industrialized products, books written for attentive reading and reflection are healthier for the mind than an intellectual diet based on electronic information.

Included in The Slow Book Revolution is a case study of the Regent Library Book Club by Associate Librarian Harold Henkel. In the chapter Harold gives an overview of the Book Club’s history since its founding in 2008, and discusses what has been successful and not so successful in order to provide a guide to other academic librarians considering a book club at their institutions. Harold says he was honored to contribute a chapter and hopes that the book inspires other academic librarians to take up the cause of promoting literature on their campuses.

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1Maura Kelly, “A Slow-Books Manifesto” The Atlantic, March 26, 2012, http:www.theatlantic.comentertainmentarchive201203a-slow-books-manifesto254884.

2Meagan Lacy, et al., The Slow Book Revolution: Creating a New Culture of Reading on College Campuses and Beyond (Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 2014).

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.comentertainmentarchive201203a-slow-books-manifesto254884.

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.ukculturebooksbookreviews7685510David-Mitchell-on-Historical-Fiction.html.