Do That Hot, Sexy Thing with Your Lips--Reb MacRath

No, for heaven's sake, I don't mean this:

And no, Lev Butts, I don't mean this:

This is the hot sexy thing with your lips:

That's right, move 'em when you read!

I don't know when exactly I started to question my own reading speed...or my habit of sounding the words in my head, savoring rhythms and diction. Nor can I recall when I first felt ashamed at helplessly reading some sections aloud. I knew that others read far more quickly than I -- some with perfect recall.

I read a book on speed reading not long after college, stung by a stranger's cruel remark about my lipful reading style. I recall trying to master the basic principles: not sounding the words...silently ingesting lines, then paragraphs of type. I never entirely abandoned my efforts or enjoyed any real success. Reading in this fashion was pleasureless to me, while reading my own way brought equal measures of pleasure and shame.

Ah, but I remember my emancipation after reading this great book:

Francine Prose argues brilliantly for the virtues of reading slowly...from a writer's point of view. She focuses in turn on: slow or close reading as a neglected art form...word choice...sentence craft...potent paragraphing...effectively driven narration...nuanced characterization...dialogue...and details, details, details. And you may find your lips moving as you read Ms. Prose, then rush to find more of her books.

But here is the key thing that freed me from attempting to follow the silent and quick: deflation of the notion that gray matter is measured by speed. Teddy Roosevelt is said to have been one of the greatest speed readers. He'd plunder through a newspaper or book, tear out the pages as he raced and hurl them across the room. No further need of them; he had them in his head. When morning came the cleaners arrived with their shovels and brooms to clear the floor of his carnage. But did he get more from a book than turtle-like readers who take their sweet time to get to the heart of their reading? If he was smarter, good for him -- but it wasn't because he read quickly. No man wears a reading crown till he can relate to a brilliant line break as a Julius Caesura...or wrap his lips around a vowel as if it were --Whoops, best not say.

It may take me a month to read Shogun while others can finish in two or three nights. And let them enjoy a laugh at my expense. But, thanks to Ms. Prose, I'm prepared to debate. All right, Speedy, I will ask: what are the strong points of the author's style? what are his or her shortcomings? what can you tell me about the book's structure--halves, thirds or quarters? can you tell me anything about the book's theme or subtle use of symbols? would the book have been better if shorter--and, if so, what would you have cut? how is this mystery/fantasy/epic different from rivals in the genre? Etc.

Let each reader read according to his or her preference. But speed reading in itself is no better than very quick sex on a plane: not bad at all for what it is...but in no way superior to long, loving intercourse with another's body, soul and mind.

Now, then. It's for you to decide. But if you'd rather take your time, be freed to shout with pride:

I dedicate this post to Richard Monaco, whose brilliant short novel Blood and Dreams took me three good weeks to read.


Mari Biella said…
Much depends on the book, I’d say. Some books are driven by action, and demand of readers that we keep on turning the pages, always hungry to find out what happens next. Other books are a little different, and seem to require of us that we linger over individual passages, savouring them, examining them, and re-reading them. Sometimes when I’m reading I loiter over certain paragraphs, either startled by the beauty of the language or trying to squeeze every last trace of meaning and significance out of them; at other times, I race from page to page, simply because the story has a momentum that is impossible to resist.

(I’m not saying that action-driven books are in any way inferior, by the way – they too very often repay a close second reading!)
JO said…
Books can be like food. Some needs scoffing quickly and others need tasting every word.
JO said…
Books can be like food. Some needs scoffing quickly and others need tasting every word.
madwippitt said…
Didn't I read somewhere that reading silently rather than murmuring the words as your eyes ran over them was in fact a relatively recent thing? It does ensure thoroughness of reading: as does listening to a book rather than reading it.
Susan Price said…
I don't know about recent... One of the admiring things said about Alexander the Great was that, whereas everyone else read aloud to themselves, he read silently.

I agree, that when you really want to pause and enjoy the words, you read them aloud - after all, words are meant to be spoken. Their sounds and rhythmns are important.

It also helps to peg them down when your concentration is failing and the eyes are skipping over the print.
Nick Green said…
I'm totally with you here. I would no more speed-read a good book than I would listen to a music album on fast-forward. You may be able to say that you've 'listened to it'. But you haven't listened to it as the musician intended. Same goes for a book, and its writer.

When people have occasionally said to me, 'I read your book in one day!' I know they mean it as a compliment. So I try to smile. But inside, I'm crying. That took me eighteen months, I want to tell them.

I'm pretty sure there are now some writers out there on Amazon KDP who write faster than I read.
Jan Needle said…
As a man who can write a book faster than I can read one, I could respond in several ways. But as to this: "...speed reading in itself is no better than very quick sex on a plane: not bad at all for what it is...but in no way superior to long, loving intercourse with another's body, soul and mind." Bloody Ada!
Dennis Hamley said…
Sex on a plane may be all right in first-class or even Business but the toilets are way too small in Economy and besides, there's always a queue outside. Yes, it depends on the book. I'm racing through Owen Jones's The Establishment at the moment, only pausing now and then to cheer. Punchy prose of extreme clarity. Tt needs to be met full on because the argument won't let you stop. A book like Catherine's The Physic Garden, which is made by the language so that the style actually becomes the man, needs to be lingered over and savoured. I both speed read and savour and the book, if it's as good as those that I've mentioned, decides for us.
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks God Jan's around to articulate my own baser reactions. But I also endorse what you say about savouring rhythms and tasting the many flavours of a good piece of writing. I remember (probably 55-56 years ago) pausing in my reading of The Grapes of Wrath to copy an entire passage on the inside cover of a notebook. It felt like an incantation (and not in the sense of excessive wordiness).
Chris Longmuir said…
I'm afraid I'm in the fast reader camp. I find that when I'm reading slowly, the savouring of the book sends me to sleep! But I do appreciate good writing and a good turn of phrase. And I can stop to take notes or go back over a particular piece, and I do retain what I've read. Oh, and I've always been a silent reader - with no lip movement - and I'm no spring chicken (sorry for the cliche!). I remember my granny's lips used to move when she was reading, and it fascinated me, now I know why - she was sexy! And that reminds me, my son borrowed a book on speed reading from me over 25 years ago. I must ask him if he's finished with it!
glitter noir said…
Since I'm among friends, I'll add this: through craft and patience and cunning, I have learned to sound the words in my head without noticeably moving my lips while in polite society. And I am with Mari on silently reading actioners in which style plays no real part, though from time to time the author may have slipped and written well. In those lovely pratfalls my lips will start to move.
Elmer Bludgenbury said…
I'm a stranger to this site. But I must say how pleased I am that someone's spoken up for the world's slow readers. Hell, you could put a cow to sleep with the movements of my lips. And when I'm reading something that really rings my bells? My wife comes by to check my pulse--to see if I still have one. Good for you, Reb MacRath. And I hope you get a night or two with the gal in that first photo.
Ann Evans said…
I'm in the slow reader camp, but I'd love to be a fast reader, as there are so many great books I want to read but there's only so many hours in a day. I tend only to read at night - usually long into it when I've got a good book that I can't put down. Then bleary eyed in the morning I regret staying awake so long to read instead of sleeping.
glitter noir said…
Just came across a cool quote from Lindsay Evans of Harvard University Press: "The mighty imperative is to speed everything up, but there might be some advantage in slowing things down. People are trying slow eating. Why not slow reading?"
Lydia Bennet said…
I'm a very fast reader and the better the book the more greedily I gulp it down. However if it's beautifully written or cleverly put together or very funny etc, I notice that and then I'll re-read to savour it.
Lee said…
It probably depends a lot on the person. I know of at least one fast reader who not only retains what she's read but can analyse it in astounding depth years later. She may be an exception (she's a writer, critic, and professor) but such people do exist.

But for us normal folk, slow is better, at least for the stuff you think worth reading slowly. There's a lot of both fiction and nonfiction I skim. The exception is poetry, with which I start my work mornings. You cannot, really cannot, read a poem fast. (And aloud is of course best.)

Chris, I laughed about your son!
glitter noir said…
Lee, thanks for pointing out the need to allow for exceptions. That need's as important for writing as it is for reading: every now and then some rascal whips out a brilliant first draft at disheartening speed.
Leverett Butts said…
An excellent post as usual Reb. As I'm sure you're aware, I, too, have a tendency for slow reading (though for different reasons). I have found, though, that I much prefer to take my time with a book, even short ones, and savour the experience.

As for mouthing the words, I also do that occassionally, especially when reading dialect. I find it sometimes helps my comprehension tremendously.

P.S. Monaco was tickled pink to know that you mentioned him here, but he was absolutely impressed that you got the Chandler connection in Blood and Dreams. As far as he knows, you and I are the only ones to have caught it on a first reading.
glitter noir said…
Thanks, Lev. I'm glad RM was pleased. Through the years several films have tried to modernize Medieval times by adding rock music, rap dialogue, etc. But what RM accomplished, without any gimmicks at all, remains meaningful and new and fresh.

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