You’re Reading Too Fast: Drum Mag & The Slow Reading Movement

By Melanie Yarbrough

For anyone who’s ever listened to David Sedaris or watched David Foster Wallace read his own work, you know that hearing the author reading his own work transforms it. I attend author readings to get a different, more personalized, perspective of the literature I’ve fallen in love with. It takes interaction to a whole new level, brings new meaning to sections or lines I may have read a hundred times.

So when I heard about a literary magazine allowing that intimacy between author and reader and stories, I knew I had to share it. The Drum Literary Magazine is a “non-profit online literary magazine dedicated to literature in audio form.” You’ll find authors who’ve published in Ploughshares, Tin House, Glimmer Train, Best New American Voices, The Kenyon Review. I even found a story by Jonathan Papernick, a creative writing professor at our alma mater, Emerson College. Many of The Drum‘s stories are free for listening on their website, but there is some premium material available to subscribers, as well as the ability to download any of the content on the site.

I love two things in particular about the project. First, that lesser known authors and writers just starting out in their publishing careers have the ability to connect with their audience on a level previously available only to authors afforded a book tour. Second, that it combines the new and the old in an exciting and potentially groundbreaking way. Oral tradition is made fresh and new with technology that allows it to be contained and made widely available.

Each generation has its own visions of the apocalypse, in all areas of culture and nature, and the Internet’s ever-reaching domain is no different. You can’t discuss publishing these days without the inevitable discussion of its erosion, for the naysayers, or its revolution, for the rest of us. The literary community is fighting back, whether with personal projects that take advantage of technology to create what they want to consume (see: Burnt Bridge) or movements such as Slow Reading, that emphasize the importance of taking our time in a fast-paced environment of knowledge-sharing. With links coloring every bit of Internet reading we do, it can be difficult to actually make it through an entire article or story, or sometimes to even remember how you ended up where you are. The art of slow reading, of allowing what you read to absorb and stew and reabsorb, isn’t anything new, as Patrick Kingsley’s article in The Guardian on the topic demonstrates. Nor is re-emergence of the phrase due to the birth of readers new to the art of slow reading. In fact, the sole importance of discussing the topic or even having a name for it is raising awareness.

Erosion indicates a slow wearing, an analogy fitting what some reference as an epidemic reading overload. The question “How did I get here?” applies on both the immediate how-many-links-brought-me-to-this-article level as well as the grander scale of the impacts our ADD has on culture and society. But just as the sentence, “Don’t think about elephants” inevitably draws up an image of an elephant, bringing attention to the disappearance of our attention spans challenges us to do something about it.

In Kingsley’s article, he references the statistics about how many people will actually make it through his entire article based on the medium through which they’re experiencing it.

If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.

These subtle and genuine references prompted my virtual ears to perk up, and I tried to prove to myself that I wasn’t part of some statistic. (He also does us the favor of including only 15 links in his article, just shy of 2,000 words – an admirable feat in the age of linking every word even peripherally related to an article the author has read or written within the past month.) And if slow reading is a great answer to the panic-stricken, sleepy-eyed voice of the overstimulated, The Drum is a great reaction. Rather than an attempt to reinvent the wheel of storytelling, The Drum is a platform that uses the accessibility of technology to promote stories and their authors rather than tear them down. The short story and its telling are very much alive at The Drum, and I look forward to see the work they continue to highlight.

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3 thoughts on “You’re Reading Too Fast: Drum Mag & The Slow Reading Movement

  1. Catana says:

    Funny, my reaction to authors reading their own work and the whole concept of slow reading is very different. I hate hearing someone else’s interpretation of how the book should be read, including the speed at which it should be read. I’m a naturally fast reader, which has nothing to do with ADD, our speeded up culture, or anything else. Listening to someone else ramble along at speaking speed just bores the crap out of me, and it always did, long before the internet came along.

    • Catana,

      I definitely didn’t mean to make a jab at fast reading; I take the slow reading movement as more of a nod to allowing a piece of writing to sit with you, to marinate and converse with other things you’ve read. It’s true, hearing some writers read their work can clash with my interpretation, but I’ve – more often than not – found that it creates new angles with which to view something I may have put away in my mind.

      There are so many books and stories that I want to read, but if I don’t pay each of them adequate attention, what’s the point? For me, doing that involves reading slower or aloud.

      Thanks for reading! Hope NaNoWriMo’s going well!

      – Mel

  2. Catana says:

    I didn’t take it too seriously. Just one more instance of noting that my reactions are very often about 180 degrees off from what most people are talking about. I should note that I process visually much better than auditorally, so reading print gives me more of a chance to absorb the text. Even if the reader if very good, it just doesn’t stay with me.

    Another offbeat sidenote. While so many people are treating NaNo like a do or die race, I’m plodding along, writing chunks of my novel inbetween reading a book or two and surfing the web as usual. Hit 20K today, so I must be doing something right.

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