I first read How To Read Slowly in 2001 between finishing my master of divinity and starting my doctorate. This might seem like an odd time to read a book on how to read — clearly I could read as I’d managed to get the MDiv. I wrote the equivalent of my master’s thesis on teaching for moral growth through stories. I thought that my doctoral dissertation would go in a similar direction. It didn’t, but that is another story. I was expanding my reading about reading. In addition, I read this book in Lent when I’d given up reading fiction. Reading about how to read fiction helped me make it to Easter.
Sire wrote this book (still in print in a second edition) in 1978 after writing The Universe Next Door. People wrote to him after they read TUND to find out how to read books to discover the worldview it exemplified. How To Read Slowly was the long answer to this question. It is meant for Christians, but Sire noted in his first chapter (also the introduction) that reading is a pretty universal craft, and he thought non-Christians could learn to read from his book as well. Sire includes chapters on reading non-fiction, reading poetry, reading fiction, the contexts of pieces of writing, and how to choose what to read next.
I re-read the first couple of chapters today on the bus home in order to remind myself of why I like this book. Sire has a great conversational writing style. I didn’t feel like I was in a lecture with Dr. Sire — yet I wanted to take notes. I was reminded of why re-reading is often a good idea, why reading slowly is better than reading quickly, and what fun reading non-fiction can be. I now want to assign this book to all my students as a supplementary text, particularly the chapter on reading an argument in an article. The poetry chapter is pretty good too, and is part of the reason I no longer think poetry is all pretentious hipster BS.
I last read this book about two years ago, shortly after reading Unless by Carol Shields. In Unless, Shields makes the point that many influential reading lists are compiled by men and consist primarily of male writers. This made me think. I regularly look at other people’s reading lists and those lists influence what I read. I went off and examined the gender balance in my own reading (I keep a list remember). Then I examined the gender balance in the two reading guides I read most often — both by men. Sire actually didn’t do too badly. He used an article by a woman as his primary example in the non-fiction chapter. He quoted two poets as personal favourites in the poetry chapter — one male and one female. On balance, his work is heavily weighted in favour of male writers, but he did not exclude women, and in one chapter a woman writer was the key example. A later work of Sire’s (Habits of the Mind) mentioned 23 women intellectuals/writers vs. 311 men. These are things that make me slightly crazy. What is more crazy-making is that Sire does a better job of including women than many other reading guides. This means that a female to male ratio of 23:311 is better than most. THAT is crazy-making.