As you may or may not have noticed, I wasn’t around much last week, I was on vacation in the lovely mountains of North Carolina (folks from out West are asked to hold their “you call THOSE mountains?” remarks for the time being).

It was a bit of a departure for me, since vacations for the Rhoades clan have traditionally involved a lazy week at the beach.  But we had a free place to  stay at my folks’ condo on Beech Mountain, so we decided to seize the opportunity.

I’ve often observed that there are marked differences between the type of folks who like to vacation in the mountains and those who vacation at the beach. As I wrote a few years ago:

  • Mountain people are on the move: up the trail, down the slope, across the rock face. Beach people have to be reminded to turn over periodically so that the sunburn is evenly distributed. When they do move, beach people prefer an aimless ramble along the shore rather than a brisk hike up a steep slope.
  • Mountain people are into gear: backpacks, boots, bikes, skis, etc. Beach people tend to regard shirts and shoes as an imposition.
  • Mountain people love the breathtaking vistas of peaks and valleys. The peaks and valleys that appeal to beach people are covered (barely) by Lycra and Spandex.
  • Mountain people experiment to get the right ratio of nuts to raisins in the trail mix. Beach people argue over the perfect Margarita recipe.
  • Mountain people like freshly caught trout grilled over an open campfire. Beach people like shrimp broiled in butter or deep fried, especially in Calabash, N.C. (aka Arteriosclerosis-by-the-Sea). And don’t forget the hushpuppies.
  • Mountain people are exhilarated by the smell of clean, crisp air. Beach people get all misty-eyed at the scent of Hawaiian Tropic or Banana Boat.
  • Mountain people throw logs on blazing fires. Beach people rub aloe vera on blazing sunburns.

This is not to say I didn’t have at least some time to be indolent. We spent a day lounging by (and swimming in)  lovely, cool Wildcat Lake in Banner Elk:

And I watched a few sunsets from the deck:


But there was also plenty of walking, to places like the Wilson’s Creek Overlook on the  Parkway, which you reach by a trail that closely resembles a stone staircase  3/4 of a mile long, but which rewards you with this view: 


Or the hike to Linville Gorge:

 All in all, though, it was a chance to live a little more slowly. I still did a lot of the things I do every day, like check e-mail, but with every one I made myself answer the question, “do I really need to respond to this today?” With a very few exceptions, the answer came back “nope,” as I closed the lid on the laptop. Very liberating, that. I recommend it.

I got less writing done than I’d planned. But that was okay. I wrote when I wanted, and I got a clearer vision of where I wanted the book to go in its last act. A long walk in the mountains  will do that, when you’re not gasping for breath and hoping those spots in front of your eyes don’t mean you’re about to have some sort of aneurysm.

I also got a lot less reading done than I usually do on vacation. I’m typically pretty cocky about the number of novels I can burn through while lying on the beach. This time, I got exactly two read (Brad Thor’s STATE OF THE UNION and Ian Rankin’s A QUESTION OF BLOOD, if you’re interested). But I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

Which caused me to reflect: what the heck is my hurry when it comes to reading, anyway? Even with books I like, I tend to be constantly checking where I am in relation to the last page, eager to get to the end and go on to the next book in the TBR pile. And why brag, as i’ve been known to do, about how many books I read in a week off? Since when did reading become competitive for me?

When considering the question I came across this article on the “Slow Reading” movement. Seems that I’m not the only one to ask the question, “what’s your hurry?” when reading. “Mostly,” the article says, “the ‘movement’  is just a bunch of authors, schoolteachers, and college professors who think that just maybe we’re all reading too much too fast and that instead we should think more highly of those who take their time with a book or an article.” The idea goes all the way back to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “who in 1887 described himself as a ‘teacher of slow reading.” Slow reading, the theory goes, increases comprehension and enjoyment of the text. It’s hard to do in this high speed, hyperlinked world, but now that I’m back to that world  after a week of living slowly, I think I’ll try a little slow reading. I know life’s short and work often demands speed…. but what’s the use of hurrying through your pleasures?

‘Rati, what say you? Anyone for some slow reading? Or do you do that already?

20 thoughts on “Slow

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    Reading slow … I’ll have to contemplate this new concept. 🙂
    I think the more one reads, the easier the flow of words creating images in one’s mind therefore the quicker one goes. I absolutely believe consistent practice at the act of reading facilitates the process. I compare myself (rather fast) to my husband whose reading is practically nil (no books — he prefers computer games which is fine). It’s not that he can’t read of course but it is very slow going over each word.
    Overall the theory of slow reading is interesting but I compare it to watching a film. The speed of the film going through the projector gives the illusion of movement and the story is the focus. One could slow down the film to appreciate the artistry of each frame filmed by director. I think it depends upon the intention of the viewer (or reader).

  2. Kaye Barley

    You were up here in my part of the world! I hope it was a lovely visit and will stay with you for a long while.

    I find I’m reading slower these days than I once did. I don’t think it has anything to do with living in the mountains – although, the rest of my lifestyle slowed down significantly when we moved here from Atlanta 13 years ago. I used to read an average of 3 books a week, then at some point I realized I wasn’t really retaining much about the story other than I either liked it, or I didn’t. When that happened I consciously made an effort to slow it down and savor the story, the beauty of the words, and the atmosphere of the book, a little longer.

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Gorgeous photos, JD. I’m a mountain person who lives near the beach. I grew up in N.M. and camped in the Rockies growing up. But my wife is a city girl who think spiders hang in packs in the foothills, just waiting for her. It doesn’t help that the few times we’ve ventured into the mountains we’ve encountered tarantulas and rattlesnakes.
    I tend to be a slow reader and I like it that way. And I’d rather read one really great book two or three times than one new book every week.

  4. Judy Wirzberger

    Did you ever watch americans eat – shovel it into the side of the cheek, chew chew, swallow, shovel in another, even hold one shovel ready before the swallow. Reading can be like that. It’s okay, I guess, for instant oatmeal and books at the bottom of the New York Times 2,000 list. But then there are some books sprinkled with sentences that need to be rolled around in the brain, philosophies that need to be pondered, descriptions that need to be photographed, smells that need to be inhaled. shivers that need to work out of the body, frights that need to be calmed, tears that need to be wiped. Ah, the luxury, the supreme absorption of a marvelous book.

  5. Jake Nantz

    So you were right next door to my old stomping ground. I spent four years learning, skiing, and playing lacrosse at Lees-McRae up there in beautiful (and let’s be honest, tiny) Banner Elk.

    As for slow reading, I’m definitely a slow reader, but not by choice. I just read slow ’cause I’m kind of a dummy.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    I’m so happy you had a good vacation, Dusty.

    I’m into the slow foods movement, but slow reading? Hmmm. I LOVED being able to read so much during my last vacation, to have the pleasure of doing nothing but devouring books . . . I didn’t think about the speed of it at all.

    I’ll have to ponder this idea more. I guess it’s because most of the time I read soooooooo slowly because I don’t take the time to spend hours and hours reading — just 1/2 hour or so when I go to bed.

  7. toni mcgee causey

    I’ve read fast, when the book was the equivalent to cotton candy or M&Ms. I’ve read slow when it was a delicious five course meal, begging to be savored. I used to sort of have an idea of how many books I’ve read in a year, and I gave that up, because I ended up feeling competitive about it, so I completely empathize with your post. (And I’ve given away so many books over the years, I have no idea how many I’ve ever owned. Plus, I lost a bunch to water damage one year.)

    The scenery is gorgeous, Dusty. I’m glad you had a slow, provocative time.

  8. Alafair Burke

    I’m slow, much slower than I used to be, and I suspect it’s because writing has changed how I read. I pay closer attention to choices a writer makes. It’s annoying, really.

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures. I was torn for a bit on whether I was mountain or beach until that part about the margaritas. Beach, please.

  9. JT Ellison

    Reading slow – I’ve been reading Sarah Waters THE LITTLE STRANGER for a month now – I’m not sure if it’s slow or if I’m spooked so often I have to put it down.

    Glad you had a rest, Dusty!!!

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Whoa, PK writes the post of genius!

    I feel exactly the same way, although could not for the life of me have put it so well. But l, too, like to read books at the speed of film. I just went through two whole Harlan Cobens in the last two nights (bizarre dreams, let me tell you…)

    But I’m also with SJS – books I like I’ll read over and over and over again. So it’s not like I’m not giving the author her due.

  11. Nancy Laughlin

    I love both the mountains and the beach, but, as the last of the painful sunburn fades from my shoulders, I have to say the beach comes first with me. Where else can you watch a dolphin and sea lion play together as I did last weekend!
    I really had to stop and think about whether I was a slow or fast reader. I think slow. I love to savor the images and the world, and I’ll read a paragraph over and over until I really capture the essence. And if the book is good enough, I too will read it over and over again.

    Note to Zoe: I’m really enjoying Killer Instinct right now.

  12. JD Rhoades

    Jake, we went through the campus of Lees-McCrae (which is about half of downtown Banner Elk) pretty much every day. Lovely place, but I did notice that every waiter we had was a LM graduate :-).

  13. Catherine

    I tend to read fast mostly. I like fast paced books and like to keep up the momentum.

    Sometimes though there will be a turn of words that stops me in my tracks and I can’t help but sit and wallow for a while at the authors dexterity.If I really enjoy the book I come back to it to have a slower second look around. It’s a great way to discover a few extra layers of meaning, and connections that I understand in my own life.

    I also find that re-reading a couple of decades after I’ve read something has value. I’m just about to relaunch myself in Truman Capotes ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’. Considering I last read it at fifteen I think a slow read as an adult is in order.

    JD I love enjoying the pleasure of choice. I am at best a woman of simple needs. As long as I’m reading at a pace of my choosing I’m happy.

  14. lil Gluckstern

    I live in Northern California on the beach where the mountains go right into the water, but it is rarely hot enough to bake. That being said, I loved your pictures because I spent a great deal of time on and around the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Smokies, and there is just a different feel to them. Westerners may be snooty about their mountains, but I really enjoyed the scenery, and the history that I found all along the parkway. I am a fast reader, but I try to savor what I read. through these blogs, I am discovering new authors and more books, so I have to work not to rush. As Cornelia said, so many books, so little time.

  15. Mary

    I used to envy my kids because they could whiz through a book in no time — and retain it. While I have to trudge along. Dyslexia can be a blessing (I go slower so I savor books) and a curse (if I’m the least tired I read some really strange words.)
    The scenery shots are fantastic!


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