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Bookish Pet Peeve #6: Speed Reading

Why?

Why in the name of all things holy would I want to speed read?

Okay, I understand if I’m researching for a paper and I want to skim through a large amount of text in a small amount of time. I understand if I want to find a specific quote or a specific source within a book.

From an academic standpoint, there are many reasons why speed reading makes sense.

But just as a general rule: What motivates one to speed read? To me, most books are like a nice wine, and you don’t chug wine. You savor it and enjoy it. You drink it slowly. You think about where the grapes grew and what the temperature must have been like and how annoying that guy from the Sideways movie is (okay, not really). But you take in a good wine.

Speed reading is like chugging wine at a frat party. At least when you chug, you get drunk. Probably not a good idea, but you at least understand the consequences.

But what do you get from speed reading? Like, if I’m a pretty good speed reader and I decide I want to speed read through The Sun Also Rises, what exactly do I accomplish? The ability to say I’ve read the book faster than another person? And at what price?

How does the reading comprehension of a speed reader compare to someone who just reads the book to enjoy the book, not to fly through it like a one-day tourist at the Grand Canyon?

And is this entire post going to be a serious of questions? (Perhaps?)

Part of me wants to buy in. Part of me thinks it might be nice to cut my reading time in half while still understanding (some/not much/maybe a little bit) of what I’ve read.

But most of me is just tired of the pressure of my fast-paced life. Got to be to work on time. Got to make that meeting on time. Got to check my email and Twitter and make sure nobody’s making death threats in my blog comments. Got to get home and get my workout or my jog done in 25 minutes. Got to be in bed by 11 so I can get up by 6. Got to do this and do that and do it all very quickly.

I just want to read, man.

When I read, I just want to sit down and read. I want to sip on that passage like a nice bourbon. If it takes me 30 minutes to read 5 pages, then so be it.

That’s why I never put some kind of timeframe on myself to finish reading the 101 Books. That might be a little more challenging and adventurous, but it wouldn’t be fun.

I want to enjoy the reading and let my pace ebb and flow with the busyness (or lack thereof) of my life.

Read 101 books in a year? Even two years? No thanks.

So where do you stand on speed reading? Would you like to tell me why speed reading is useful—in any way other than what I’ve stated above? I’m all ears.

(Image: Getty Images)

Previous Bookish Pet Peeves:

#5: The Book Borrower

#4: The One Upper

#3: The Book Snob

#2: The Nosey Over-The-Shoulder Reader

#1: Bookstore Cell Phone Blabbermouth

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42 Comments Post a comment
  1. I find speed reading useful. I already naturally read at a higher speed then most people, and I am considering taking a course. There are some books indeed that are to be savored, but with the amount of notes, scripts, books, novels and school assignments I have to work myself through, this skill is essential. Great post, hugs!

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  2. I’m a speed reader but not by choice. I just happen to read books like they’re burgers and I haven’t eaten in three days! I wouldn’t choose to read a book quickly just so I could say ‘look how quickly I finished this book’ but I have a tendency to devour books in one sitting. Of course, I also go back and read them again. And again. And again.

    Liked by 2 people

    March 28, 2014
  3. Some books make it hard to read fast. Hard to get past the first few pages. Then you are in and never want out. ;D

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  4. I never speed read!! Reading is like yoga, you have to take slow movements to get the benefits.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  5. Brandon #

    I taught speed reading courses several years ago. My observation is that the people who benefited from speed-reading techniques were people who either had a reading deficiency already or were faced with a large amount of conceptual nonfiction books (i.e. business majors who had to read 18 versions of “Who Moved My Cheese” or whatever). The first group benefited from speed-reading techniques because their natural speed was interfering with their comprehension of the text. The second group benefited because the books they wanted to read had very little artistry to savor; they just needed exposure to the materials.

    Of course, there were other people in the class who didn’t fall in either category. Some were efficiency-minded. Some were achievement-oriented. Some just wanted bragging rights. Some were there because their parents insisted that Junior be in the 99th percentile of EVERYTHING, including reading speed. I don’t know how much good the course did them.

    (An aside: A core concept of the course was speed without comprehension is worthless. The speed vs. comprehension metric I used was this: If I randomly stop you and you can’t summarize the last two or three pages for me, you are going too fast.)

    When I started teaching the course, I was a naturally fast reader–around 700 wpm. Practicing the speed-reading techniques, I got up to 1,300 wpm. Since I don’t practice anymore, I’m back down to 800-900 wpm, which is still pretty fast.

    Positives: I grew more disciplined about reading and comprehension. As a story junkie, books are incredibly immersive when the story is just flowing off the page. I can get through a massive pile documents from work extremely quickly if necessary. I can read 15 awesome novels on one week-long trip to the lake.

    Negatives: When I’m editing or proofreading, I have to intentionally slow down so I don’t miss small edits. I can burn through a great book in a few hours, which can be exhilarating but, in my opinion, makes it more difficult to really appreciate the beauty of the prose. It can result in eyestrain and headaches.

    So there ya go. I think speed reading (or at least the techniques) is totally appropriate for some people in some circumstances. I’m glad I learned how to do it. Practicing speed reading made me a more intentional and focused reader. But speed reading is not something I choose to do very often.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
    • Good info. I knew there more instances in which speed reading was beneficial, and this helps me understand those specific circumstances.

      If it doesn’t affect your comprehension and appreciation of the text, then read as fast as you want. I just think it’s too easy to sacrifice comprehension for the sake of speed.

      Do you think the majority of speed readers do it for a practical purpose or just to finish the book?

      Like

      March 28, 2014
      • Brandon #

        At this point I’m just speculating, but I’d say about a third of the class actually needed to read faster–like, it was essential to keep pace with their coursework or actually understand the text they were reading. (Fun experiment: Try reading one word per second to see how frustrating it can be.)

        For the rest of the class, I’d say motivations ranged from “I will conquer X number of the great classics and will thus be esteemed Well Read by my peers!” to “I love reading and I want to be better at it!” to “Being a faster reader will give me an advantage over Johnson in sales/on the GRE/whatever.”

        Probably the only attitude that really turned me off was the whole “If I do X, then I’ll be Well Read.” I think you touched on that a few weeks ago. The Merit Badge Reader attitude is just a bit weird to me. Reminds me of trophy hunting or the nerd equivalent of frat dudes bragging about their conquests.

        Like

        March 28, 2014
  6. teresa #

    I’ve got to hand it to you Robert for not speed reading the Dance series or other books you found trying. I wasn’t as patient. I speed read books that tried me in various ways: Gone With the Wind, The Golden Notebook and I, Claudius just irritated me. I also speed-read Revolutionary Road and The Corrections, two books I found so depressing that I couldn’t read them otherwise.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  7. gatergirl96 #

    Love it! Savor the books.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  8. I’m with you!

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  9. I completely agree! I’m a slow reader and proud of it. Speed-reading is overrated. Who cares how long it takes you to read a book if you’ve enjoyed it and understood something about it? When all that hype about the speed-reading app hit the internet, I just rolled my eyes and looked the other way. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  10. Speed reading for me takes place when the story takes a twist, and gradually i tend to read faster and faster..!!

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  11. I can’t slow down unfortunately. I often long to and if I really really try I can but as soon as I forget to try I speed up again. I read the last Harry Potter in about six hours and I desperately wanted to be slower so that I could savour it, as the very last one, but no luck.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  12. I’m naturally a speed reader, and on the whole it has been a benefit to me – I can think of a book in terms of its entire story arc, rather than “on these three pages, this happened” and “in this chapter, a new character appeared.”
    But I find there is an “autocorrect” feature to my speed reading – and it has only become evident when I started editing (especially other people’s writing). I really need to force myself to slow down and even sometimes read the words aloud, to make sure I’m not unconsciously putting in missing words or not noticing incorrect punctuation/spelling/ etc.
    The slow reading experience of editing has made me curious about audio books. I’ve never actually listened to one – but now I’m tempted to for a book with rich language, say, Dickens or James or similar.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  13. I’m with you on this! It would have come in so handy in school but now I read for fun, to enjoy the story, to think about what I’m reading. That said, I have found that I have accidentally become a fast reader. I think it’s just that I read so much that I’ve become really fast. Sometimes I’m annoyed by this – last year I read 115 books. I’m trying to scale back this year.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  14. I honestly think that I lack the self control to read slow! Like many others who have posted, I too speed read naturally and can’t seem to force myself to slow down. With so many books and so little time, I see speed reading as beneficial. While I might not linger on one specific book, I’m exposed to more literary works!

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  15. I took a speed reading class a few years ago, to help with my academic reading. (I was a history major – “Here, read these 1500 pages this week, about ancient African civilization. In between your classes, homework, and part-time job.” It got pressing.) I’m naturally a very fast reader, but the course increased my speed. When I finally graduated and found I had time to read for pleasure, I naturally read faster.

    Which isn’t to say I lost the pleasure of reading – it’s just that my “slow” speed was faster than it used to be. I’m wading through Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” for the first time now, and I’ve had to slow way, way down. For most people, that might mean savoring each phrase, possibly saying it out loud. For me, “savoring” means I actually read it the same speed I speak. (Which is also pretty fast.) I think taking a speed reading class will help people, because it helps their reading skills. But I think that deliberately speed reading poetry or novels does detract from the overall experience.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  16. I often wish I could read faster, because I read sooooo slowly. But then, I want to savor what I’m reading. I want to have my champagne and drink it, too,eh? A long time ago, I tried taking a speed reading course, but I hated it. My comprehension dropped to near zero. What’s the point? I do envy those who can speed read AND have an eidetic memory. That’s the ideal to me.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  17. I’m such a painfully slow reader, with poor retention, that I rarely remember much about the books I’ve read, which is sad. But I enjoy reading. I think I could benefit from reading faster than I currently do, as long as the retention was also improved. Thanks for the thoughts.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  18. I don’t know how to speed-read, but sometimes I think wistfully about it when I consider all the truly great books I will have left unread when I die.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  19. In my opinion, I think people want to speed read so they can get through books quicker, and in the end, seem like a well-read person. They can say they’ve read 100 books, and everyone around them is like, “Wow, I wish I could read more.”

    I once knew a girl who skipped over pages in a book. She would read a little, and then skip some pages (and by pages I mean a good 15-20 pages). When I asked her why she did it, she said that you don’t need to know the tiny details of a book. You can skip through those, and still find the meaning of the book.

    I wish I could read faster, but then I realize, it depends on the book. If I’m reading a harder/advanced book with words I need to look up in the dictionary, then yes, I’m a slow reader. If it’s a lighter/beach read sort of book, then yes, I’ll finish it in a day.

    I think it all just depends.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  20. I completely agree with you! You can’t dissect and savor words or sentences while speed reading.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  21. I will be boycotting the whole movement. I thought the same as you when I read of the recent “innovations”. Seems like we, as a race, are determined to make every beautiful think extinct and destroy every natural wonder before we’re done. THe beauty of reading is the getting lost, looking up for the first time in 15 pages and realizing an hour and a half has passed and you should have the dinner started and many other things accomplished. But instead you were skiving, rambling about in a fictional wonderland, oblivious to time and. This reader has no need for speed, thank you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in the treehouse with a novel, no clock, and I’m pulling the ladder up behind me 🙂

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  22. “I just want to read man.” My favorite feeling is knowing I have a whole afternoon to enjoy a book. I’m with ya. I like to take notes, underline, highlight, ponder… then again I did challenge myself to read 100 Books in 13 Months (and have stopped along the way to read Wildwood and Divergent) but they are “Childrens Books” so it’s not REALLY that much of a challenge, right? Sometimes I speed read when I only have a few minutes in between classes or before a meeting and I really want to know what happens next.

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  23. Well lets think about that for a second…what motivates someone to speed read (excluding academic context)? (1) Get through the book because it’s boring them, (2) get through the book because it’s boring them and (3) get through the…you get my point. If you like a book you wouldn’t speed read it. You’d…well like you said “savor it”. Nice post!

    Like

    March 28, 2014
  24. I think I read at a reasonable pace and only speed read when for studying purposes etc. On the other hand my sister can skip entire PAGES of a book when she’s in a “boring” part, or reading filler/background information, and that makes my skin crawl. You are missing so much context that important pieces of the story later on perhaps less relevant and I don’t think the overall book will have the same impact.

    Like

    March 29, 2014
  25. I can only see speed reading as something useful for academia. As far as reading for pleasure goes, no way. Nope.

    Like

    March 29, 2014
  26. The reason, id think, that speed reading is useful.. Is the only reason I thought anyone would think of..
    There are sooo many good books out there and who knows how many one person would be able to read in a lifetime. We don’t know how much time we have left. And the only regret would be not reading all those amazing stories that’d you’ve heard of.

    Speed reading will help you read tons of them before it’s too late!!

    Like

    March 29, 2014
  27. Reblogged this on Start Up Thoughts.

    Like

    March 30, 2014
  28. Okay, if it’s “death threats” you want to show up in the comments section … sorry, that’s not my inclination. I share your point of view. Why “read” a book by the fan method? Doesn’t that mean it’s not really worth reading? I think it would be fair to say I give a book the time it deserves. Some books are like fine wines, others are like mindless quick-gulps.

    I agree our pace of life often doesn’t allow savoring a book. More’s the pity. We should be seizing the savor experiences! We’ll be richer for it. Fine post for thought!

    Like

    March 31, 2014
  29. Until a few years ago, I used to be a very, very fast reader. I would pick a book and before you could say Jack Robinson, I’d be several chapters in. Quite naturally, I just slowed down in everything. I take days to read book and sometimes I even read several at a time. I just take a break from one and keep mulling it over and when I’ve had enough, i will come back for it. There is no reason to speed read if there isn’t some academic deadline to beat.

    Like

    March 31, 2014
  30. I think speed reading is a waste of time because your focus does not need to be entirely upon what you are reading. If you take in a book at a steady pace you can reflect upon what you are learning in relation to other areas of knowledge you have built up.

    Like

    April 1, 2014
  31. I can’t even understand the principle behind that idea too. Why? The whole point of reading is to either understand something or enjoy something. How and why would you speed-read that process.

    Recently I read an article about a bizarre app that flashes words at you so you can speed-read. Sounds just awful

    Like

    April 1, 2014
  32. I am a speed reader. I don’t necessarily mean to be. It’s just how I read. I’ve been a voracious reader as long as I can remember. Sometimes I wish I could slow down, but then I get distracted and lose focus on whatever I am reading. For the most part, I wish I could read even faster. It feels sad to me that there are so many great books that I will never get around to reading. I don’t mind forgetting most of what I read, I just want to read it all. Does that make sense at all?

    Like

    June 19, 2014
  33. Paul #

    (Please see bottom for possible insight.)

    I personally find reading just for “enjoyment” a waste of time. (Of course I feel that this definately applies to nonfiction, more than not.) There always seems to be too much needed to be read already just to get some moderate success in life, with the situation getting steadily worse. (Old books and reading material, [to catch up], new books and reading material, trying to decipher the myriad of information on the Internet, [commercialization be darned], reading on the go, attempting to read on mobile devices etc.)

    The above rant aside, if you are reading for enjoyment you can still get benefit from this by being able to read more (assuming you can retain it that is) in less time with the ability to, know more plots or discuss more books’ themes socially, for example. (All of this assumes of course that you are actually able to “read” when you are attempting to speed-read… Is it actually reading if you are not able to retain the material that you were attempting to read in the first place? )

    Thus, if you are reading just for pleasure’s sake you will be able to enjoy even more books of even more variety by even more authors.

    By now you may note that I tend to attempt to use more of the “practical” then not. That being said, I hope you are able to use this “advice” well, to enjoy your reading even more fervently. Good luck and God “speed” (…’read ‘ that is).

    Like

    July 13, 2014
  34. Paul #

    That having been said, Brandon’s comment above intrigues me because, I have never been able to perform speed-reading, nonetheless obtain any comprehension. (As such, I was beginning to suspect that speed reading was not real or otherwise an outright scam.) I was curious as to what course that was, that you were referring to, or can you recommend a current course that would work nearly as effectively with comprehension in mind.

    Like

    July 20, 2014
  35. Sin #

    I’m like a drug addict with books. I tend to not be able to put them down. I don’t force myself to speed read. But there are books I’ve read very slowly, like The Golden Notebook most recently.

    Like

    March 9, 2015

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