World Enough & Time

September 07, 2012


Even the title has a certain timeless feel to it.

I first read about the book World Enough & Time, by Christian McEwan, on Susan J. Tweit’s blog, and I ordered it at once. The subtitle, “On creativity and slowing down,” coupled with Tweit’s review of the book proved irresistible.’s description says, “According to McEwen, the nonstop emphasis on productivity that is so prevalent in our society is counterproductive for anyone wanting to be creative”—something I wholeheartedly agree with. My default speed is slow. I spent a lot of time alone as a child, and though I was occasionally lonely, I mostly enjoyed the solitude and freedom to do and think as I chose. Spending afternoons in my room, listening to music, daydreaming, writing in my journal or reading formed my personality. As I have grown up and gone from child to parent, from student to worker, I’ve lost nearly all of that unscheduled, dreamy time and I want it back. I hate the speed of 21st century life, and the common assumption that busy is better and packed schedules equal fulfilling lives. McEwen encourages us to allow ourselves to slow down and pay attention.

This really excellent book deserves a slow and thoughtful read. McEwan has pondered long on her subject matter, and draws on a wide range of sources to flesh out her points, quoting writers, philosophers, artists, musicians, psychologists and others. Some reasons I liked World Enough & Time:

It reinforces something I believe in: slowing down is good for us, not just as a tool for creativity but also a way to heal troubled minds and hearts.

The way the book is written encourages you to slow down—not that it’s difficult to read, but that each page holds so much to digest. Before each new chapter is a title page with a single quote so that there is a sort of pause before you go on to new material. Each chapter ends with a couple of simple suggested activities and more quotes to ponder.

The writing is beautiful, with evocative chapter titles like “The Art of Looking,” “A Feast of Words,” “The Space Between” and “A Day So Happy.”

Here is one of my favorite passages from the book:

“Computer ‘memory’ is literal and predictable; it does not alter over time. Human memory is considerably more fluid. We need time to muse and dream, to mull, to ruminate, to sort through our own insights and associations. In the words of the philosopher William James, ‘The connecting is the thinking.’ Without space for that free-floating receptivity, short-term (or primary) memory is not transformed into the long-term (or secondary) kind. Our memories are not consolidated. We mislay the tiny details of our lived experience, the originality and satisfaction of our own opinions.” In other words, without time to process our lives, we forget them. I’ve often felt like an oddball because of my need for quiet time every day just to sit and think or daydream, letting my mind roam where it wants to go. I feel better about that need, now that I know it’s essential for realizing a fully-lived life.

World Enough & Time is not just a book for “creatives”—artists, writers, musicians, etc. It’s a book for anyone interested in stepping out of the mad rush of the world to live at his or her own pace.  I plan to keep it out where I can reread it more slowly (yes, I quickly read a book on slowing down!) and internalize its ideas.

How do you slow down the pace of life?

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  1. I had to laugh when you said you quickly read a book about slowing down. I think sketching helps us slow down - we have to slow down to see. Maybe I don't want to learn to sketch faster like I thought I did! Sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Cheryl--I know, right? I can't help myself! It's a great book, and I am going to reread it a bit more slowly.

    I agree. Sketching definitely helps us to slow down and really see.

  3. It sounds like a great book, Kathy, and one that I will put on my list to read. I am so grateful that I have my mornings quiet time these days.

    Kathy M.

  4. I hope you like it, Kathy.

    I love my morning quiet time, too. If I ever miss it, I don't feel quite right for the rest of the day.

  5. This book sounds so cool - and just what I need. I'm going to have to check it out. I'm so glad you mentioned it.

  6. Hope you like it. I think it's a great antidote to our hurry, hurry society.