Make time to read slowly

Make time to read slowly

How are you reading this right now? On your phone while squeezed into a carriage with other commuters?

Or maybe you are reading this after a long day's work, the newspaper spread out languidly upon the dining table.

Regardless of how you are consuming this information, one thing is for sure: The medium you are reading on affects how you read.

Studies have shown that screen-based reading means more browsing and scanning, with the reader's focus jumping around the page in a non-linear fashion.

This translates to less in-depth, concentrated reading. And in this day and age, when 78 per cent of Singaporeans own a smartphone, such haphazard reading is common.

But despite the digital deluge of information - a BBC report last year estimated that people are exposed to as much information in a day as their 15th-century counterparts were in a lifetime - some dedicated readers are holding out against the online onslaught.

What such readers are doing can be called slow reading, which a Sept 17 Wall Street Journal article advocating the practice defined as reading in a "continuous linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions".

Mr Lee Seow Chong, who is in his 40s, is one of those Singaporeans who are swopping their news feeds for a novel and their push mail for poetry in their spare time, putting the brakes on hectic modern life for a few precious hours.

Ironically, he works in computer software management.

He compares slow reading with being wholly engaged in any activity, such as painting or a sport, and is drawn to it for its psychological benefits.

"If I read for two hours, it doesn't feel like two hours and I lose myself in it. I come out feeling more alive," he says.

"But let's say if I watch television or browse articles on the Internet, the two hours are fragmented and I come out feeling exhausted."

Mr Lee formed the Book Lovers' Club in 2010. It has more than 2,000 people on its mailing list. They meet once a month at the Central Public Library for about three hours each time to discuss an assigned book.

There are now more than 100 book clubs here, many of them part of the National Library Board's Read! Singapore initiative. The library's loans per capita have increased by 14 per cent since 10 years ago, from 6.3 loans in 2004 to 7.2 in 2012, which shows that more print books are being borrowed.

Author and artist Desmond Kon, 43, says the availability of reading resources may have played a part. "Everyone is simply more well-read because it's easier to access multiple resources. I'd like to think this hasn't had a negative effect on longer, more complex narratives like literary fiction."

He says technology has also made the social aspect of reading easier to foster and that one does not actually need to join a book club to discuss a book.

He adds: "Social media has allowed a wonderful kind of immediacy. You can share with others what you just enjoyed reading and thereby a community of thinkers gathers, in such effortless ways."

Other champions of concentrated reading enjoy how it fires up the engine of the imagination, which may be a neglected component of people's everyday lives.

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