Our Reading Lives

The Surprising Joy of the Slow Read

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I read a lot. 

Compared to the average person, I read a whole lot. There was a time I averaged three books a week, if not one a day. (I’m still not our resident Velocireader, Liberty, who has historically read over 600 books a year, but who is, really.)

Well, I used to read a lot. I still read plenty, but not a lot a lot. Recently, it’s been easy to start, but a bit harder to finish. Let’s chalk it up to being hit with a lot of different things at once — on top of a global pandemic, there was also the work of getting an anthology published, multiple surprise medical issues, and constant personal assessment of my mental health and wellness — pulling away my ability to focus and stick to something. In the past 15 months, I’ve picked up a lot of interesting books, only to put them down 100 pages in and never touch them again. They might have been incredibly compelling, and sometimes, they weren’t even romances, so I couldn’t say I knew how they’d end. I just didn’t keep going. And I wanted to. Alas, there are too many books in the world to go back, even if they were interesting in my hand.

Or at least, that’s what I thought.

Cover of The Devil Comes Courting

When I picked up The Devil Comes Courting in late April, I thought I was in for another one of my marathon weekends (or maybe weeks, depending on what else was going on), common for any new Courtney Milan release. I remember clearly getting my hands on an ARC of The Duke Who Didn’t in September and happily reading it straight through in my guest bedroom while my husband worked on some fancy LEGO project at his worktable. But as much as The Duke Who Didn’t was a delightful hug in a book, The Devil Comes Courting was something very different. 

And when I put it down the first time just a couple of chapters in, I was afraid that for the first time in my romance-reading history, I would DNF a Courney Milan book. I was vaguely horrified. I was already fascinated with the concept of a 19th Century romance set in China featuring a British-raised Chinese woman and a Black American entrepreneur. I’d only just been introduced to both of them, and they were so interesting. And now I was just abandoning them? What was wrong with my brain???

But I found, to my surprise, that I came back to it. I would read a chapter or two while eating my lunch, or find an hour to read in the evening. I’d lean my kindle against the vase holding a LEGO floral arrangement (yeah, there’s a lot of LEGO in my house) on the table as I prepared and slurped pho or waited on wings to cool off from the air fryer. I’d snatch a few pages on my phone while I waited in the self-check line at Target or in the doctor’s office. Even if I went a whole week without reading it at all, I always picked up right where I left off, deep in the feelings that each point-of-view character was experiencing.

(Bear in mind, I was also reading other books. Some of them were just as slow going, but I also managed to read a couple in single sittings. I also walked away from a few.)

There are three things that heavily contributed to my slow reading. Part of it was the setting. Historical fiction has been much harder to read in the 2020s (oh my gosh, that’s a thing we can say now!) than contemporary, of which I have been reading plenty. They’re not specifically written differently, but there’s more worldbuilding to process. Same with fantasy and other speculative fiction, which I haven’t been reading much of, either. Another element? The format. Ebooks are hard right now, probably because of the amount of overall screen time we’ve all been getting. Screen fatigue is a thing, even when you switched to kindle to ease up on your eyes. And the last? The actual book. Amelia Smith and Grayson Hunter are two of the most complexly built and emotionally draining characters I have read all year, and sometimes it just hurt to be in their heads. Their fears, their desires, their individual and collective needs. Their grief, their separation. Their self discoveries — easier to read, but harder to process.  

But the slowness also contributed to a unique emotional experience. 

You know how people have started to talk about the difference between a network dropping a full season or series and the weekly release model? Sure, you’re getting everything at once and have more control over whether you’re able to watch the whole thing at once, but you have time to process each episode when you have to wait for the next one. You can think about the things that happened, live in the story for a little longer, and process any shock or grief or Feelings in a more deliberate way. The story sticks with you longer, and little bits and pieces that might have passed you by as you flung your way through it jumped out, leaving you time to take notice and even take notes. This isn’t to say that the other way is wrong (I processed plenty when I read a surprise ARC of The Heart Principle, Helen Hoang’s much-awaited third release, in as few hours as possible). It’s just…different.

When everything was said and done, my spreadsheet says it took me 41 days to finish it. I can’t say for sure, but that’s probably the longest time I’ve ever spent reading a single book — maybe discounting that semester-long course on Orlando Furioso I took junior year of college. But that near month and a half commitment to finishing it made it so that reaching the end (and Courtney Milan’s spectacular Author’s Note) was all the more satisfying. 

I’m not going to say I’m going to purposely start spending months at a time reading a single book when I can just sit there and read without distraction or disruption. But I also won’t consider taking such a long time to finish a bad thing. 

Because in the end, I can still say I made it to the end, and Amelia and Grayson’s extra special happily ever after. 

And that’s the most important part.