As I’ve written before, I’m currently typing out David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” word for word to better appreciate his writing. It is, of course, slow going; it’s actually deeply satisfying, but anything more than a page or two a day, and it becomes a grim chore.
As I’ve also written, this means that it’s going to take time. The book 1,100 pages long, and because about a hundred of those pages are footnotes and endnotes in tiny font, those pages are just about the same as one and a half to two times that many in the regular text. In other words, this means that doing this will take three years, give or take.
I’ve also, of course, been just reading the book, but I’ve been going about it in an unusual way. Instead of reading it or listening to the audio book I’m actually doing both, sitting down, listening to someone read the book to me, and then watching the words go by as I hear them.
Again, it’s slow going, far slower than if I just read the book. Where it may usually take me, say, one or two minutes to get through a page, going along with a steady, deliberate reading voice takes me closer to four minutes a page.
This means that a mere thirty pages take two hours to get through.
And boy, I should have done this a lot sooner. Not just with this book, but with most of the things that I read.
Too often, we equate intelligence with speed. The word “slow” often has grim connotations when applied to learning (think of the term “slow learner”). When I was in sixth grade, my teacher would have “math races,” in which we all needed to solve problems as fast as possible. I struggled mightily with this, and though I got everything right, I was usually somewhere in the middle of the class.
I could always find the right answer, and I could always get what I needed to get out of reading…I just needed a little more time. Furthermore, because I enjoy hearing words as I see them, I did so much better when we would have a read aloud of a story or book. And of course, I also enjoyed it because the pace was slower, and I could I could just let the meaning get to me at its own pace.
When I read, my mind goes back to those grim memories of seeing classmates whip through text with total recall. I feel the need to bolt through the text, and yes, I get through it…but realize that I’ve maybe understood about a quarter of what I’ve read.
This experience, in the past, was absolute death for something like “Infinite Jest,” dense as it is. It is only now, reading it at a snail’s pace, that I appreciate it.
And as I go through this, I wonder: how many college careers suffer due to this rampant pressure to do so much in such a short time, to do hundreds of pages of reading in just a few days? In fact, how many lives suffer as a result of this? Most importantly: how many times does this pressure cause people to give up, robbing the world of someone who may be incredibly capable in a particular area?
We cannot all do things at a breakneck pace, and those of us who need more time suffer for it. Yet we also have much to offer. From our experiences in first or second gear, we can give the perspective of a life spent accomplishing a great deal, just at a bit of a slower pace than everyone else.