Review: ‘In Praise of Slowness’ a manifesto on deceleration (Star Tribune)

Mark Athitakis, Star Tribune: A few years back, Canadian journalist Carl Honore decided to put the brakes on his life after hearing about an absurd concept: The one-minute bedtime story. Honoré was bothered by the idea of a 60-second “Little Red Riding Hood,” but he was bothered more by how much it initially appealed to him. However hyperactive modern life is, he realized, fast-forwarding through quality time is even worse. There is, he notes, “a gnawing disconnect between what we want from life and what we can realistically have, which feeds the sense that there is never enough time.”

Part reportage and part manifesto, “In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed” is an engaging, well-written journey into the various ways that people around the globe have attempted to live more patiently. From “slow food” to yoga to more relaxed work schedules, Honoré brings a journalist’s skill — and skepticism — to his subjects. Personally testing out a langorously made four-hour dinner in Italy, taking in a classical concert led by a conductor who argues that Mozart is played too fast today, sitting in on a Tantric sex workshop, Honoré arrives each time prepared to dismiss each idea as New Age idealism. But he walks away each time mostly convinced that the slow approach works, even if he can’t quite embrace Speeders Anonymous, a British attempt to ease English feet off the accelerator.

The slow life isn’t a movement in any organized sense, but it’s a response to the increasingly chaotic pace of modern living. “More than any generation before us,” he writes, “we understand the danger and futility of constant acceleration.” Certainly speed has its physical and monetary costs. The effects of junk-food diets are well-known, and long work hours have long-term effects on both health and productivity; Honoré points out that Ernst & Young recently told its workers to avoid checking messages on weekends, and Harvard students get an annual message from undergraduate dean Harry Lewis titled “Slow Down.” Various studies point out that “Slow Thinking” is more profitable, something Honoré finds in his own musings. “My eureka moments seldom come in a fast-paced office or a high-stress meeting,” he writes, a notion that rings true for many.

But the good news is tempered by the fact that slowness isn’t always cheaply had. More foreplay and fewer Whoppers aren’t bad pathways to a richer life, but many of the efforts discussed in “Slowness” come with a hefty price tag. After charming us with the story of two women who halted their business careers to spend more time with their children, Honoré tells us that “both have high-earning husbands.” Lengthy Italian meals don’t come cheap, schools that utilize the virtues of patience cost $7,000 Canadian yearly, and meditation classes often are financially out of reach for many who could use them the most.

Honoré doesn’t flinch from these flaws, but he doesn’t successfully wrestle them to the ground, either. “Decelerating will be a struggle until we re-write the rules that govern almost every sphere of life,” he finally confesses, which makes “Slowness” one of the most ambitious movements going. Time is money, as they say, and free time too often costs dearly.

Mark Athitakis has reviewed books for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post and Newsday. He lives in Chicago.

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