When the Interstate highway system went into place, bit by bit, it was exhilarating. I remember the construction of new pieces of it in my home state of Michigan. Suddenly you could drive safely on the Interstates at a consistent speed, and get to where you're going as efficiently as possible, given the interdependent elements of time and fuel use.
Thus the old, slower routes were superseded. Progress was made.
Sure, in a way. Interstates made, for instance, the old U.S. Route 66 obsolete, as least as far as Chicago to Los Angeles was concerned. Eventually Route 66 was decertified.
[Thanks to Tom Vegod for cool photo of Rte. 66 clock.]
Yet the Route retained its status as the original road to California, and now it's being revived by buffs of history and romance.
Because, of course, faster and more efficient isn't always best. And lots of people know it. But fast and efficient are so seductive!
I think about these things when reading and writing.
When I was in my twenties I learned how to speed-read (remember Evelyn Wood?). Speed-reading was progress: A new technique to help people like presidents and researchers absorb the gist of a book in a few minutes. But for me it was like taking one bite out of a delicious dish of food prepared with care by an expert chef, swallowing it without chewing, then throwing the plate away, then grabbing another dish, taking one bite, then throwing the rest away, etc.
I thought reading slowly must be what stupid, lazy people do. Yet I liked to read slowly, and I still do. It took me years to get comfortable with that, to stop feeling ashamed of being a slow reader. Ridiculous, I know.
But now I say it loud and proud: When you read slowly you can take pleasure in the author's style. You can pause to think things over. You don't miss stuff. Because for me, a single beautiful, perfect sentence can be the most important thing I remember about a book, fact or fiction. Plus, I reread some books, for the pleasure and learning of it.
Scanning some informational stuff for its gist is OK, for sure. I do that.
I know I won't read as many books in my lifetime as fast readers do. But I'm OK with that.
As for writing, I like to write at a pretty good clip. But I slow down when I need to. I look back and revise. I want to make it beautiful and right. I want to serve you a delicious dish you'll savor and remember.
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