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.

Mr Kenneth Quek, 42, deputy director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore, says: "If you watch a movie, the information is presented to you with actors and that's how it exists in your mind. But if you read a book, you're reading the words from a page and the mind creates pictures in your head. It allows your imagination to work."

Delving into an arresting piece of writing also gives readers a key to unlock a private, quiet space, away from the demands and hassles of daily life.

Ms Amanda Aston, 58, is a professional violinist and founder of the Jane Austen Circle, which runs a book club as well as organises other Austen- themed activities such as tea parties and dramatised readings.

She says reading the 18th-century novelist's works gives her "time to step back from the world, to relax and savour the story and it's also a time of reflection".

"I feel I escape into a different world, a different, bygone era with good family values. I find it nourishing for my soul, encouraging and uplifting," she adds.

Aside from the psychological and emotional benefits which slow reading brings, there are also more quantifiable, tangible advantages.

A paper presented at The International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media in Italy in July showed that people remember better the text they read in print than text read on screen.

Participants in this study were asked to peruse the same mystery story in a printed book form or on a Kindle. Those who read the physical book performed better when asked to sort events in chronological order.

Reading online can also be distracting, as readers' attention may be diverted by by hyperlinks and fragmented text, which discourages sustained reading.

For law student Xiao Hongyu, 25, the joy of reading is simple. He reads "to feel less alone in this universe and to enjoy the beauty of words".

His favoured genres include historical fiction and narratives which involve reminiscing or reflecting on a past.

His reading rate fluctuates - some months he does not read at all, while in others, he devours several books.

One of his favourite quotes is from the 2006 film The History Boys by English author Alan Bennett, which sums up why he likes to read.

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you," he quotes.

"And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead.

"And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours."


The National Library Board's digital resources have become a lot more popular over the last few years.

In 2008, there were a total of 26.7 million retrievals of electronic resources, which includes subscribed databases and e-books. In 2012, this figure was 63.4 million - a whopping 137 per cent increase.


Heavy readers are "mainly single, female, and graduates, without children", according to a 2009 survey of 180 adults here between the ages of 28 and 43, published in the Singapore Journal Of Library & Information Management.

The same survey found that 10 per cent of respondents did not read at all, while over 90 per cent of them would turn to the Internet first when looking for information.


Many children read not for leisure, but to improve their grades. A 2007 survey of 440 upper primary students here, published in the international Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, found that 62 per cent of them said most of the time, they read "for better grades in tests and examinations".

The survey also showed that the most popular types of books were story books and comics, while non-fiction books and newspapers were the least preferred.

This article was first published on Oct 7, 2014.
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