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Book Review: In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

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As I write this review, I’m also finishing off an article about how marketers are using mobile phones to get their message across to their target audience. It’s frightening.

It’s not frightening what the marketers are doing, it’s frightening what the public is doing. People are letting their phones grow into their lives, becoming symbiotically one with their cell, so to speak.

It’s leading to an always-on world where anything is up for interruption, where you can never be sure if someone is “all there” when you’re talking to them.

Enter the worldwide Slow movement. Yes, that is a capital S, and not because Slow is the name of some new deity.

In fact, if the Slow name wasn’t so popular, I’d call it Sane. It’s the rhythm of life our forebears have followed for centuries, and we’ve made it unusual by worshipping at the altar of speed and efficiency.

The concept of Slow (with a capital S) is explained in this book’s introduction:

Fast and Slow do more than just describe a rate of change. They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried and analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections&#8212with people, culture, work, food, everything. The paradox is that Slow does not always mean slow. As we shall see, performing a task in a Slow manner often yields faster results. It is also possible to do things quickly while maintaining a Slow frame of mind.

The movement is made up of people like you and me who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world. That is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto&#8212the right speed.

Carl Honore takes you on a magnificent trip through the burgeoning Slow movement, from Europe’s Society for the Deceleration of Time to Japan’s Sloth Club, to Tantric sex workshops in London, SuperSlow exercise studios in New York City, and&#8212of course&#8212a long, leisurely meal in the south of Italy.

Honore is a visual journalist&#8212a rare talent among non-fiction writers. He takes you through a potentially bewildering array of facts and figures in a cinematic style. You’re learning, but you feel like you’re on holiday.

Slow, he explains, is not a headquartered movement, rather it is a collection of movements in the same direction&#8212towards a more balanced, healthy life.

In ten chapters we explore the impact of Slow on cooking and eating, urban planning, healthcare, sex, work, leisure and raising children.

This book is very similar to The Joy of Laziness but where Laziness preaches somewhat (the authors are, after all, doctors), Slow simply narrates. Honore doesn’t come across as a rabid evangelist for the church of Slow; instead he’s a sometimes slightly-skeptical everyman observing a movement, comparing it to his own lifestyle and making changes where it makes sense.

There’s a reason this book has been out since December and I’m only reviewing it in July: it’s a big book. Perhaps that’s a deliberate move on the part of the publishers; after all, the print is fairly large and the book could’ve been printed smaller (would’ve saved a few trees, no doubt!). But maybe this book is saying, “Are you ready to slow down?” After all, there is a price to pay for a healthier lifestyle&#8212cutting out the clutter, and taking time for what’s important.

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About Simon Young

  • It would’ve been more grammatical to use ‘slowness’ perhaps, but that never stopped anyone.

  • Hey, it’s a philosophy, not an adjectival noun… And I can tell you, they take it seriously in Italy. In fact, I think the official motto of Italy is “Eat slow, drive fast!”

  • I was in Miami recently for 2 months. The world is wired and wired. People act wired and are attached by wires and wireless things. Their money grubbing (a necessity in the American housing bubble and all its other costs) is 24/7 or so it seems. Cell phones are glued to everyone. I saw a poor Haitian woman on the Metrorail with her urchin children shouting both creole and offensive language in the train. Even she couldn’t slow down.
    I live in Mexico. It is speeding up and that is not helping except for a few things.
    Time is differest here. The culture has made it so and has made it so for a long time — before the Spaniards were the interlopers. I have seen indigenous people take a hot bus to market with only a few things to sell and sit quietly for the day in the market to sell those few pesos worth of things. Can you, an American, do that? Could a New Yorker? Or even a Miamian?
    Can we all wait for mañana to get things fixed, have appointments, see the doctor. Well, no.
    But racing around in leased cars with telephones glued to ears eating trash from fast food joints is killing America.
    There is a place not for SLOW in our society but certainly one for SLOWER. Like Charlie Chaplain in Modern Times there is a time to sleep on a statue in the park and a time to run before you are caught up by clockwork machines.
    This was a thought provoking post. And a warning for many to slow down before that sexy angel comes to take you away Quickly.

  • Thanks for your feedback alpha, just letting you know I’m not American I am in fact from New Zealand. And it’s interesting, we’re having the exact same problems – life’s too fast, so is food! We need to slow down all around the world.