Learning to Read Lento


How do you read? Do you skim the print quickly, scanning from left to right, top to bottom? Or do you read slowly, taking notice of every word, every phrase, every sentence, letting the language roll over you like waves at the beach.

In our digital age we have learned to read quickly: scanning and scrolling, getting the gist of the message. Studies show that we read differently when we read off the screen than when we read off a physical page. Just like social media, we dip in and dip out, taking in as much information as we can in as short amount of time as possible. The internet has opened up a new world, giving us access to information from any time or place, but there is a downside.

An article published on Psychology Today reports that screens do not give us the same tactile experience as a real, physical book. When we read a physical page, our brains use both sight and touch which allows us to absorb the text more easily and more deeply. Even though the text on screens and books may look the same, it is actually easier to read off the page and also easier to remember and relocate text. I don’t know how many times I have been able to relocate a quote because I have remembered its physical location on the page; whether it was on the right hand side or the left, up the top or near the bottom. It’s not so easy to do when we are constantly scrolling up or down. The easier it is to read, the easier it is to remember and process, as well as being able to concentrate for much longer periods of time.


Image by Pexels from Pixabay

With the increase in digital reading, there are concerns that it will impact on learning and the development of critical thinking. With a real book, we can stop and think for a while. We can underline bits or mark the page with a sticky note. Yes, I know you can do these things digitally, but it’s not quite the same. But did you know that, on average, a web page will hold a reader’s attention for only around 18 seconds? How many words can you read in 18 seconds? The development of critical thinking requires deep reading – reading slowly, thoughtfully and critically. There is nothing wrong with reading digitally, but if it becomes our sole means of reading and accessing information, there is a danger that future generations will not develop the necessary skills to be able to critically understand and analyse what it is they are reading.

There is also the problem of constant distractions. How often are we interrupted by notifications for this and for that, as well as the temptation to check emails, the news headlines or just do a bit of random internet surfing. Of course, we could switch off the notifications, but at least with a real book we can get right away from all those pesky digital distractions. Real books are very portable.

But all is not lost. Even though there was a time when it was claimed that the internet would usher in the end of the book, the bookshops and libraries are still here and apparently 89% of readers still prefer the real thing.


The Reading List

In the study of English Literature, we are still encouraged to access physical copies of the reading list, unless they are out of print, of course. Other readings are always provided digitally, but I still prefer to print them out. I find them much easier to read and I can highlight bits and scribble over the page to my heart’s content.

While I do have ebooks, and I do a lot of research online, I still prefer real books. I like the feel of them in my hand, the touch of the pages, the smell of a new book. And I know that I read more deeply and make better connections with a physical book than a digital one.


Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

In English Literature we practise a strategy called close reading. It doesn’t mean we hold the book closer to eyes than normal, but we do pay close attention to the text, the words and phrases the author has used, the themes and subjects, the plot and form. In my first Literature unit we were told about reading lento. Lento is a term I first came across when learning music. It means slow. Reading lento means reading slowly but deeply. As an avid reader, learning to read lento has been a challenge. When I am into a book, I just want to zoom ahead, devouring the text as quickly as I can, eager to find out what will happen at the end. I have had to force myself to slow down. Taking notes has been quite helpful in this regard.

Close reading forms the basis of what we do when we study literature. We are reading not just for what happens and why, but how the author has put their book together. What choices did they make?  Why did they make those choices? Did they work or not? A variety of approaches to studying literature have come and gone over the years, but at the heart it has always been about reading books closely.


Image by Ed Robertson from Unsplash

Sometimes I think we can become a bit overwhelmed with all the books that are available for us to read. I wonder if we sometimes lose sight of the reason we like to read in the first place. It is easy to become consumed by lists and challenges, goals and data. It is always a good thing to read diversely, and challenges can certainly help us to do that, but perhaps we also need to remember to enjoy the journey – to take our time, read slowly and enjoy the experience.

Henry James said that the role of the attentive reader was to “try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.” Reading slowly and closely means we might read fewer books, but hopefully we will read them at a deeper level, make connections, broaden our horizons, develop and challenge our outlook.

Happy Reading

For further reading…






6 thoughts on “Learning to Read Lento

  1. Yes! So absolutely true! I know I am supposed to advocate for the digital, but I cannot give up physical books. Ebooks might be handy but they are still no substitute for the physical book.
    Nicholas Carr investigated the effect of reading on screens and how it is changing us, the title of his book sums it up nicely; The Shallows. Reading online runs the risk of turning us into shallow readers and shallow thinkers, not a desirable outcome. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sharon. The book by Nicholas Carr sounds interesting. Yes, ebooks can be handy and they take up less space, but it’s just not the same. Snuggling up in bed with a device is just not the same as curling up with a book, let alone all the research that tells us physical books are best for deep reading and critical thinking. Looking at what is happening in the world today, we need deep thinkers, not shallow ones!


    • I think there is something in the tactile experience of reading a real book – holding it in your hand, physically turning the pages and paper is much easier on the eyes than glaring screens. I like your phrase, “speak to you” – it does feel a lot more conversational with a book, like you can hear the voice of the author.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am pretty much the same, although I do have a growing collection of ebooks that are classic titles in the public domain. Certainly for research it is amazing how much information is available at our fingertips. I remember the old student days which meant hours in the library and copious coins through the photocopier. I am so glad those days are over.

      Liked by 1 person

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