In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré

SlowRemember the New Economy? Who cared about silly things like profit or actually selling a product? Then, with the first financial crash of the new millennium, we were all reminded that there is little new under the sun. Businesses must have something to sell and must make more than they spend. It’s the way business works.

Slow has similar roots. Against a tide of boxed food and more and bigger and faster, we ache a little and feel that we have missed something important. It fascinates me that this is such a universal feeling. Slow argues that the things missing are the best things – relationships, curiosity, health – all things easily within reach if we will only slow down, observe, and enjoy.

I was expecting something different from Honoré’s generally fine book. From the title – In Praise of Slowness – and subtitle – How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed – I expected a more philosophical work that explores the relationship of Slow and the good life. On the face of it, it’s obvious but, as with most things, deeper questions reveal deeper truths. But Honoré never digs deeper and writes almost exclusively to the choir. And it’s in no way a bad sermon. Much of it resonated with me. Who of us wouldn’t enjoy more leisure? Or lazy daily dinners with family and friends? But at some point the endless recitations of stats that only bolster what is obvious becomes tiring. I skimmed through the last chapters.

But there is plenty of good stuff here. The book is thorough and addresses all areas of endeavor. I expected to read about food and leisure and a kind of lazy mindfulness. I did not expect to read about Slow cities, Slow education, or Slow sex. But be careful not to see this picture in Rockwellian shades – I read once (A Year in Provence?) how many Southern Europeans chuckle at wealthy Americans who carve out a week to come and live like the French or Italians must simply because they are too poor to enjoy new cars and iPads.

I don’t like the term Slow. It conjures a kind of Amish life, a rejection of things, and a curmudgeon’s argument that overalls and a pitchfork will cure life’s ills. It reminds me of the old folks who used to come into the store where I bagged groceries. It was a rare old bird who didn’t complain that back in their day a whole week of groceries cost ten bucks, not just one bag. But that is not Slow. Slow is a deliberate, engaged, wide-eyed look at what makes your life good. It is values writ large. We see a fork in the road and pick our path based on your what is most valued. For some, a Porsche is the epitome of waste – fast, gas guzzling, and flashy. Someone else sees it as an ode to classical engineering and design where every part of the car harkens to a time when craftsman worked by hand for the love it. Slow lets you decide which path is best for you.

Slow is not new. Recent iterations include the American Transcendentalists who encouraged people to look within themselves for direction and the Arts and Crafts Movement which rejected industrialization in favor of the natural and handmade. Most recently, the Hippie Movement advocated leisure, free inquiry, and acceptance. All good things. I see much of the old PBS master, Wayne Dyer, here as he was usually loathe to tell you what to do, but begged you instead to make decision consciously.

The book slogs a bit but there is lots of good reading here. Anyone familiar with Slow will get affirmation but not much new. Readers new to the idea will have plenty to think about at the fork in their particular road.

Definitely worth the time – three stars.

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