“Faster, Higher, Stronger” The motto of the Olympics is top of mind these days, following the excitement in Rio, where the athletes were faster, higher and stronger. World records, Olympic records, national records and personal best records all fell before the onslaught of the latest crop of Olympians. In 1912 the men’s 100m race was run in a record time of 10.6 seconds. Each succeeding contest saw fractions of a second shaved off. in 1996 Donovan Bailey of Canada set a blistering speed of 9.84 seconds. By 2008 Usain Bolt could run the race in 9.69 seconds, in 2012 he bettered his own record to 9.63 seconds at last week in Rio, he did it in 9.58 seconds.
That is just one example of the increasing speed of athletes and the increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for measuring time. Even with atomic clocks, laser beams and photos, the women’s 100 freestyle in the pool resulted in a tie for gold between Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, and Simone Manuel of the United States.
This need for speed seems to have overtaken us in other areas as well. We have fast food, instant communication, tables, conversions and calculations immediately on-line, information at our fingertips. With the advent of ipads and smartphones, we don’t even need to find a desktop computer. All these resources are as close as our back pocket.
Sadly, the need for speed has entered the world of books as well. I just saw a critique of one of my favourite authors and she was panned for not having enough action — on the first page, not having enough sexual tension — on the first page, and not having high enough stakes — on the first page! For me, this need to open a novel with a car chase, a shoot-out or a kidnapping, erodes the pleasure of reading. The author the critics panned is a master at drawing the reader into the story slowly, but relentlessly. She starts in the ordinary world, where the reader thinks she’s going for a walk in the garden, then subtly, inexorably she weaves a web that traps the characters in their own lies and half-truths, exposes their fears, their cowardice, their secrets and their strengths. This writer is highly skilled at the twist that takes the story in an entirely different direction and catches the reader off-guard. I find her work compelling and enjoyable. The slow pace is part of her charm. Jo Beverley wrote of my book, “The Man for Her,” a “book to savour.” That’s the kind of story I like — one where the reader savours the writing, savours the twists and turns and closes the cover with a sigh. If I find myself skimming pages just to get to the end, I’m not savouring the book. I’m just rushing.
Fortunately, there is a recoil against all this speed. For those of us not entering the Olympics, experts now agree a walk is good exercise. There is a slow food movement to balance fast-food alley. The author cited above has a healthy readership who relish the quiet openings of her books, and, to my delight, there is “The Long Now Foundation” that is building a clock to measure time one tick per year.
After all the speed and excitement of the Olympics, I’m off to enjoy some slow food and savour a quiet read.