Photo by Fabrik Bilder
You can order “Reuben, Reuben” online — on VHS. It’s not available on DVD or any of the streaming services. It’s an all but forgotten 1983 film starring Tom Conti as “a drunken Scottish poet, who hasn’t written a word in years, (who) feels compelled to regain control of his life and work after meeting a beautiful young woman.”
The quote from Conti’s character, “Gowan McGland,” that’s stayed with me all these years comes early in the movie, when he’s dining with a group that includes men from decidedly white-collar professions that in no way call to mind poetry. One of the men extols the virtues of a speed-reading workshop, citing an employee of Allied Fertilizer who, previously unable to be productive on the job because of the stack of reports piling up on his desk, went on to read “War and Peace” in 55 minutes.
McGland puts on the brakes.
But he read the book the way the fertilizer man reads reports; he did not read it as a book. I, for example, would like to read Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender Is the Night’ as slowly as possible. In fact, I would pay vast sums for anyone to teach me to read the books I love at a snail’s pace.
The others are not impressed, but McGland isn’t finished making his point.
Why restrict oneself to reading? Why not also listening? A ‘Minute Waltz’ in five or six seconds, or one could go to the ballet and by 9 o’clock be home in bed with your wife, or if you’re lucky, somebody else’s wife.
There you go: a bonus quote, and a little more insight into the movie’s main character.
His resistance to speeding up, and his desire to slow down, resonated with me when I saw the movie in the cinema, before I’d written or edited hundreds of thousands of words for newspapers, magazines and websites. The appeal is greater now, and not just because the current incarnation of newspaper copy editor often feels like a combination of some of the dynamics of air traffic controller, caffeine-fueled proofreader and fact-checker, all while making sure the B.S. detector is working, and all of it approximating a game of speed chess.
In advance of National Get Outdoors Day, we urged people to embrace it by unplugging from the iLife, as we put it. Plugged in, wired, wireless, connected, networked, linked, encircled, notified, alerted, reminded, messaged, instant-messaged, emailed, texted, tagged, geotagged, located, tracked, spotted, tweeted, quoted and retweeted, we live in a world our man McGland couldn’t have imagined — and would have railed against.
As I actively pursue opportunities to slow down and simplify, I metaphorically raise a glass (and literally, a cup of coffee) to Gowan McGland.