The Discovery of Slowness

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I had to discover slowness in order to read this beautiful book. Arriving home from the library with a bushel of books, I tore mercilessly through the first pages and tossed it aside, certain that it was a loser. Something nudged me back to the review I read about the book, in which the reviewer mentions throwing the book across the room before picking it up again to realize its brilliance. After a few days, I took it up again, and with plodding patience that doesn’t come easily to me, I slipped into the story of John Franklin. This is historical fiction, elaborating and spinning layers onto the real life of British explorer Sir John Franklin (1786-1847). In the book, Franklin is described as “slow,” having to rehearse responses to people before he says things, able to stand still for what seems like eons, wishing people wouldn’t talk so fast. In reality, he’s not dumb, he simply savors all the details of something to fully understand it. As a boy, he’s beat up by his father and other boys, eventually running away at age 10 to try to go to sea. He’s fetched back, goes to school, learns navigation, and does make it to sea as a soldier in the navy. Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson, and all. He studies boats, learns everything he can, eventually becoming a captain of his own boat and possessed with the interminable desire to sail to the North Pole by way of the not yet discovered Northwest Passage. His first attempt by ship fails, and he goes at it again via Canada with all its problematic natives and lack of food in winter. The first land voyage in Canada goes horribly wrong, and he writes a book about it, becomes known in London as the man who ate his shoe leather. The second land voyage much better but still failed to find the passage. He gets governorship of Tasmania for a few years then attacks Canada once again, this time having a stroke before reaching land.