The self-described "slow food" movement pits itself against speed and convenience, urging us to slow down and enjoy meal planning and preparation, not just chow down in a rush. Slow food offers meditative, voluptuous, healthily hedonistic pleasure. The same is true of what I like to call slow books.
Proust leads the list. I used to say, dismissively, that life was too short to spend it reading Proust. Then one summer I tumbled into SWANN'S WAY, and my life was forever changed. Those hawthorne trees in bloom! The magic lantern slides! Who would want to hurry through such mesmerizing reveries?
Another slow series is the literary and artistic history of our country by Van Wyck Brooks. Beginning with THE FLOWERING OF NEW ENGLAND, 1815-1865, one can at first become impatient with what seems a long-drawn-out setting of the stage. That was my initial reaction. When I realized that what I was reading would be the pace of the entire book, I slowed down and relaxed into it, no longer frantically dog-paddling for a distant shore but content now to float along on the current, with only the occasional lazy sweep of an arm through the water. One morning during a period in which I was reading Brooks, someone tried to engage me in an "Ain't It Awful?" political discussion. "Sorry," I said with a peaceful smile, "but I'm back in the nineteenth century right now."
Fiction, history, essays--it isn't genre that puts a work in the slow books category. Difficulty is neither a criterion nor a barrier to membership. It's a matter of how long the reader takes to turn each page while remaining fully engaged with the content. Frederick Franck's books on drawing, photographs and texts of Jim Brandenburg, Anita Brookner's fiction, M.F.K. Fisher's travel memoirs are all slow books, as are Anthony Trollope's novels.
You don't read a slow book to "get through it," to have read it, but to immerse and lose yourself. It is "escape" reading of the richest kind.