Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of slow burning books. It wasn’t by choice because I don’t read reviews before I start a new book. I just stumble across slower stories. And in the past, I’ve been upset that they moved so slowly. Back when I was a much younger reader, I wanted to read fast. I wanted a story that moved as quickly as possible so it felt like I was watching a movie-quality action film than actually reading a book.
Slow burning stories are a bit of a mixed bag. Some folks absolutely love them. They love languishing in the language and beautiful writing. But others hate them with the heat of a thousand burning suns. They want a story that moves and I completely understand that. It’s even more difficult to know a book will be a slow burn because no one mentions pacing in the synopsis.
However, I’ve noticed that my reading life’s changed a little in this regard. I find myself reading and thoroughly enjoying a slow burn. I always find it interesting when my brain goes from one position and then suddenly changes its mind. I mean, I’m always changing my mind about things but that comes with being open-minded and letting in thoughts that differ from your own. Somehow over the past couple of months living at home and reading the books, I’ve come to appreciate the slow burn more.
I think the main factor that really made me appreciate the slow burn (and you’re going to laugh at this one) was anime especially ones like Naruto and Naruto Shippuden. If you haven’t watched anime or Naruto, you should know that anime most definitely takes advantage of the slow burn. For some anime shows, there’s these long stretches where 10 episodes are dedicated to one battle. Each episode has them just stare each other down the entire time, but then you get the interesting backstory about the villain or the hero. It’s almost a complete sidebar that contributes to the head canon, but doesn’t contribute to the main character and their story.
And after nearly 1000 episodes (Viz Media milked this series for every single dime it was worth) of Naruto and Naruto Shippuden combined, I now have the patience of a cat stalking its prey. I’m pretty sure I can meditate for hours without interruption. I think I might have superpowers as well.
Perhaps it’s because we’re stuck at home that I have the time to dedicate to a slow burn. I don’t have to go anywhere (I mean, there’s nowhere to go), so sitting down with a long and slow read is almost a vacation from the fast-paced world of reading books and writing reviews. I’ve come to enjoy slow burns so much that I can’t handle the speed of a faster paced novel. Here’s an example:
I recently felt this shift while reading The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. While it was intricate and interesting with some deeper themes throughout, I couldn’t get over the fact that it moved so quickly. I honestly felt like the old man with a cane yelling at the young whipper-snapper to slow the heck down! I’m literally mad that this book read so quickly and it surprised me.
How am I disliking a fast book? There’s so many advantages to reading something that moves quickly. First, you get the book done faster! There’s not languishing on language. There’s no backstory about how the main character did some thing before becoming the greatest ever. It’s all implied or not as important as the main story taking place.
Then I think about Naruto again. I think about how you watched him practice the same jutsu nonstop for a week (and took breaks to eat vile energy balls) until he figured out how to do it. I think about the intricate stories that starts during the first few seasons of Naruto and then carry itself through to Shippuden. I think what I love more than a fast-burn is a slow burn that surprises you with its intricacies. It might sound tedious, but knowing that he worked his butt off to figure out how to do a complicated task is much more interesting than a ready-made character who picks up a sword for the first time and knows exactly how to use it.
One of the drawbacks of the quicker paced novel is that you don’t get to see this kind of growth. It also feels implausible that someone is able to figure out magic components or wield a sword when all they’ve done up to that point was live a servant’s life. There’s also the concern that much of the story won’t be explained because the focus is getting the MC from point A to point B. Let me see how tirelessly it was to put together a battle plan. Explain to me how the knife has like magical powers imbued into it. Tell me about the ancients and the batshit crazy things they used to do. I think what gets sacrificed the most in a faster book is world building and while I’m fine with a looser world where you can imagine more, I much prefer the author taking a moment to explain everything to me. If it happens in the headcanon and contributes to the overall story, then bring it. Although, I will say I was bored to tears during the grass and harvesting chapters of Anna Karenina.
I’ve come to appreciate the journey and the destination. If we were all so excited about the ending, then we would all just skim the whole book to get there. But for me, it’s about the little things. It’s about the deep emotions of one character for another. It’s how the author cleverly moves the story to the end.
What about you? Are you a slow burn reader or do you like a story that moves?