"In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed"
by Carl Honore
Reading history and reviews
Finished in 2008Yet another book that I've had sitting on my shelf for a long time now (probably since early 2005, shortly after it came out). At the time, with the feeling that life was a bit too busy and that there was not enough time in the day to balance work alongside my personal life, the idea of "slowing down" felt very attractive. I'd already had one stab at reading it but for some reason (maybe a lack of time? I'm not joking) meant that I didn't get much further than the first couple of chapters. This time however I made it to the end.
I feel like it's a rather flawed book about a very interesting idea. Ironically (or perhaps not; the author admits at the beginning that he is a "speedaholic") the style often felt very breathless, as if he were rushing to get all the different facets of the "Slow movement" crammed into each chapter. I also found myself slightly irritated by the somewhat flimsy evidence presented to support the idea that a set of very diverse groups and activities somehow constitute a single worldwide movement. Much of it seemed to be based purely on anecdote (the nadir for me being the chapter on complementary medicine, which I found particularly annoying), and it was hard sometimes to see a connection between many of the "slow" activities, other than that they use the word "slow". The example that stuck in my mind most vividly was that of the "super-slow" workout, which supposedly only takes 20 minutes every other day - this seemed to be almost the complete opposite to the idea that underpins (for example) the "slow food" movement: take time to enjoy the things that you do, to savour them and take pleasure in them.
But aside from all that, at the heart of the book there is a genuinely important point, that in many ways modern life offers such a wide range of opportunities and at the same time instills us with the notion that we should be experiencing them all. We're become slaves to trying to fit everything in, and focus on quantity of experience at the expense of quality. I could think of a lot of examples of times where I've done that myself, both at work and in my personal life, and the reasons for it are often many and varied. As a result we suffer as individuals both physically, mentally and emotionally. So I suppose "In Praise of Slow" could be seen more as a snapshot of how different people feel this problem and how they're choosing to try and counter it. All the irritations aside, there are clearly a lot of interesting and varied movements that have sprung up in response.
I guess my final reflection on this book was sometime from my own life: a few years ago Kyle bought me a big mug with a quote on it that read "Peace ... does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart" and I feel that's the real challenge, to live in the modern world without being swept away by it. So in spite of all its flaws I did really enjoy reading this book, and I'm glad that I finally got back to it in the end.