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Slow readers learn to savor every word

| Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, 6:15 p.m.
The slow reading movement shares some qualities with meditation.
Pauline Leveque
The slow reading movement shares some qualities with meditation.

In today's tech-obsessed world, the simple act of reading a book often loses out to the lure of the web, incessant cellphone alerts and never-ending social-media streams.

A new movement is aimed at stripping away all those distractions. The act of slow reading is inspiring clubs where people gather to simply sit in silence and relish the written word.

“I've been amazed at how popular the concept of Slow Reading Clubs has been,” says Meg Williams, director of Slow Reading Co., based in Wellington, New Zealand. Williams started the first club in August. About 30 people gather at a small, cozy bar to read each week.

“Since people heard about (us) online, we have had many inquiries from readers all over the world who want to begin a slow-reading club in their city,” she says. “Right now, we have clubs in London, Ontario, and are soon to announce in another 10 countries at last count.” The organization's website lists clubs in Spain and Japan, as well as the United States.

Slow reading isn't for those looking to read and discuss the same book as a group, as standard book clubs tend to do. It's more about intentionally devoting time to reading without the distraction of electronic devices and all the other things that can pull one away from the page. The benefits, proponents say, include everything from improved brain function to decreased stress.

“Once you commit to reading, even for a short time each week, you find yourself naturally wanting to read more,” Williams says. “I have found that I am more focused when I read now and feel relaxed afterwards. I used to get that feeling of dread on a Sunday afternoon, knowing that a busy work week was looming. Now, I look forward to relaxing with a nice bunch of people and a good book.”

As of January 2014, some 76 percent of American adults said they read at least one book in the past year, according to a Pew Research study. But the way they're reading is changing. About half read only print books, but 35 percent of print-book readers also read ebooks.

That's OK with slow readers, Williams says, so long as the devices aren't connected to the Internet.

“Technology has significantly changed the way we read in the sense that many of us are living in a world of constant digital interaction,” she says. “We are subject to digital distractions all day, which can affect our ability to concentrate on a single prolonged activity and to switch off, relax and recharge.”

Emily Lindsay, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, says slow reading could have effects similar to mindfulness meditation, the act of intentionally focusing one's attention on present-moment experiences. A CMU study showed mindfulness meditation can alleviate stress when practiced for just 25 minutes a day.

Slow reading “sounds very accessible to people,” Lindsay says. “It's really just setting aside time to slow down your mental processes. When you're not hurried or rushing around, that can have similar effects as mindfulness.”

Intention is a key element in meditation, Lindsay says.

“You intend to set things aside or focus in and be aware of everything going on,” she says. “Everything comes into perception, and it's your intention to notice it. You perceive time slowing down and get away from the harried pace of normal life.”

Pam Golden, program chair of the Pittsburgh-based Aurora Reading Club, which dates back more than 120 years, appreciates a book's ability to calm the mind.

“It is enriching and relaxing,” Golden says. “I think it definitely does help, just having some quiet time and time to just think about things and some time to reflect.”

Golden reads for business and pleasure — and wishes she has more time to do so.

“There are so many (benefits) — just expanding my world and getting a different perspective and learning about things I might not know about,” she says. “It opens up my world.”

Margaret Burley spent her career extolling the benefits of reading to younger generations as a teacher for 30 years at Miller Elementary School in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. It's a mission she's continued in her role as grandmother. She takes her grandchildren to the library every two weeks.

“I love reading,” says Burley, president of the Aurora Reading Club. “I enjoy learning about new things and reflecting. I like to get the perspective of many characters and how things impact different people.”

Burley is a fan of fiction and reads for several hours a day. She prefers reading books in print rather than on an electronic device.

“I enjoy holding a book and turning its pages,” she says. “I like spending the time to enjoy it and reflecting on what I've read. You can't compare reading to anything. It's the best.”

Details: slowreadingco.com

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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