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Old 21st Jul 2006, 22:30   #1
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Default Carl Honore: In Praise of Slow

In Praise of Slow Carl Honore

The book's message is simple, clearly put, and a good one. In a 24/7 global economy where we are all available all the time via mobile phone and Email it examines the growing number of people who are starting to question the constant need to do everything ever faster and ever cheaper. In 10 chapters Honore looks at various aspects of life: food, sex, cities, child rearing etc, and the affects of speed on them and the way slowing down restores the humanity to stressed out lives.

At first I liked the book, I am desperatly in need of deceleration at the moment and the message within the book was timely, but pretty soon I found myself getting annoyed, and then more than annoyed. The central message is a good one but the book stretches this simple message over far too many pages. It gets very repetitive. Each chapter follows the same rough pattern. First we are told, with the use of unsubstantiated* statistics, the ways in which life is too stressful, and then with a series of unatributed case histories, personal encounters and testemonials - we are given "insights" into how real people are changing their lives.
The case histories are very samey and follow the formula:
X was working Qty hours a week and was unhappy. Now finds time to engage in Slow activity Y, for P minutes a day and Slow Down. Often he finds he solves the problems that were preying on his mind while didn't conciously think about them. He is now happier, "feels more relaxed - an oasis of calm" and achieves more by doing less.
It was only when I got to the chapter about tantric sex when, as the author and his wife attend their first tantric Sex workshop, that the penny finaly droped.
There are a few archietypal New Agers, in sarongs and beads, but most of the thirty-two participants are ordinary folk in comfortable street clothes. There are doctors, stockbrokers, teachers. one man has come straight from his trading desk in the City
"Ordinary folk"? they may be Ordinary folk to the journalist author but to the rest of us? As I worked my way on through the book it became a game with me to try and guess the Urban professional who was going to give the next testemonial. Office Broker, English Lecturer? Where were the shelf stackers? the hospital porters? Where were the Long distance lorry drivers, the building labourers, plumbers, postmen, waiters, all the people who have no say in the hours they work or the jobs they do? Apart from an occasional mention of "Blue-collar workers" the shit shovellers of the world are totaly absent from Honore's story.

Like many people promoting an ideal he ignores many things that don't fit in with his thesis.
gardening is making a comeback because of the slow pleasure of sinking their hands into the earth. Gardening has... shaken off its image as a passtime for pensioners to become a fashionable way for people of all ages and backgrounds to relax.
If you take a walk round the unfashionable bits of Britain where us proles live (ie anywhere outwith North London or Canary Wharf or wherever it is all the media whores live these days), people are tarmacing, concreting, slabbing, decking, and graveling every bare bit of earth they can find in their gardens and plonking instant patio planters on top. Hundreds of thousands of front gardens all over Britain must have disappeared just to provide off-road parking alone, then you have to add in the people who think owning a chunk of Chesil Beach is the horticultual ideal.

Another annoyance was all the explanatory Mid-Atlantisisms inserted for the American readership (Carl Honore lives in London, England): The BBC, we are told, "set up a monthly Book Club slot on highbrow Radio 4" (my italics). GCEs are "the exams that all British pupils sit at the age of sixteen", a shop is in "London's Covent Garden". After a while they began to really grate.

It's a vastly over-extended aspirational magazine article.

* Unless you happen to find the 2 pages of notes tucked away at the back of the book. Even then some of the sources quoted are newspaper articles.
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Old 22nd Jul 2006, 11:07   #2
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Default Re: In Praise of Slow - Carl Honore

Junkmonkey, this book sounds very like James Gleick's Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, which takes a similar thesis but deals with it slightly more scientifically. It's full of interesting stuff, not least about "Type A personalities" (I'm one of those... but it turns out it doesn't mean I'm going to die of a heart attack!), though ultimately it too is just a collection of anecdotes. Interesting anecdotes though, and possibly (I can't remember rightly) less class-divided than In Praise of Slow.
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Old 22nd Jul 2006, 12:42   #3
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Default Re: In Praise of Slow - Carl Honore

It also makes me think of the Long Now Foundation. I suffer terribly from wanting to be faster and more interconnected in every facet of my drab wretched life, or at least that's how my parents seem to look at it. Personally I prefer the term 'revel'. Meh.

At any rate, I can also appreciate that thinking of things in terms of both 'faster and cheaper' as well as 'slower and better' is probably good for our outlooks on life and certainly the long-term survival prospects of our species.

An interesting discussion point, no matter on which side of the frantic-activity-fence one ends up sitting.
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