Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they are written.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I have always been a deliberate reader. When I stumbled across this quote while reading Walden so many years ago, it simply gave me permission to enjoy the pace at which I read. Good writing is more than just conveying ideas or recounting a story. Good writing creates a mood, and images, and evokes emotions — and these cannot be digested while speed reading.
One of my favorite writers is Pat Conroy, and my favorite book of his is Prince of Tides. When I read this poetic prose I am drawn in to the rich and colorful images Conroy is able to create. Every sentence feels like a sculpture carefully crafted.
I had the opportunity to hear Pat Conroy speak shortly after the Prince of Tides was published. He described at length his mean and abusive father which he cataloged in The Great Santini. In a misguided attempt to protect his male children from growing up to be “sissies,” Pat Conroy’s father refused to let Pat learn how to type. As a result, Pat Conroy writes all of his book longhand.
I have concluded over the years that there is a qualitative difference between writing longhand and typing on a computer. When writing longhand the pen is an extension of my arm connected directly to my mind. With a pen in my hand ideas tend to flow more transparently onto the paper. The process is slow and deliberate. Ideas form and reform as they make their way down my arm and out through the nib of the pen.
A computer and a keyboard represent a considerable barrier to the flow of ideas when compared to the simplicity of pen and paper. Although I touch type fluently, and have been for almost 30 years, my brain has to supervise as it translates my ideas into keystrokes which then emerge on a busy (and often distracting) computer screen. Granted, I can type much faster than I can write longhand, but this isn’t always a good thing. Some have accused Pat Conroy of sounding as if he swallowed a thesaurus. I know that his rich choice of words and images flows from the painstaking effort of forming every word slowly in his mind and then transferring them to paper through the fluid motion of his hand.