Thoughts on speed

The other day someone posted a message to the Bookcrossing forums asking how anyone could possibly read over 100 books a year and still have a life. The implication seemed to be that to read that much, some other aspect of your life must be suffering. The response was amazing – the thread almost immediately jumped into the “Hot Threads” box, with a couple of hundred responses, the majority from people who didn’t think reading 100 books in a year was that much of an achievement (it is only two a week, after all), and explaining just how they did it.

What was really interesting was what the 100+ readers had in common. Things like type of job, family commitments, and number of other hobbies varied widely across the group, but almost all mentioned three things:

  1. Being a fast reader – Which is not the same, as one of the slower readers in that thread implied, as “speed reading” (i.e. just skimming the text). You can read fast, and yet still get just as much out of a book as if you’d lingered lovingly over each word (in fact for me, I’d get less out of a book by reading it slowly, because I’d probably have forgotten half of it (or just got utterly bored and given up) before I reached the end). Reading fast does not mean you’re not doing justice to the book, it just means that it’s so absorbing you can’t wait to get to the next bit.
  2. Not watching much TV. We all either didn’t have a TV at all, or were very selective about what programmes we watched.
  3. Always having a book on hand, to take advantage of every reading oportunity. I read in queues, while waiting for the bus, while walking (as long as I know the route well and don’t have to cross too many busy roads!), in my lunch hour, in movie theatres before the lights go out, in quiet moments at work, in bed before I fall asleep… all of those otherwise wasted times add up to a lot of reading time!

I think the third reason is the most important, and is kind of linked in to the first reason. I don’t beleive that people who read slowly are actually taking longer to read the individual words (that’s assuming that they are competent readers, i.e. not still learning) – I think they probably read each sentence (or clause in a complex sentence) just as fast as a fast reader would. I think where the difference lies is possibly in how quickly they assimilate that sentence into the rest of what they’ve just read. A fast reader immediately assimilates the information, and moves onto the next sentence. A slow reader has to work harder to fit the information into the structure of what they’ve previously read, and search for connections (hmm, this is beginning to sound suspiciously like I’m saying that fast readers are more intelligent, but I don’t think that’s necessarily so – I suspect that it’s actually a skill that can be learnt, although I’ve got absolutely no evidence to back that up, it’s just a gut feeling). This affects point 3 above because to be able to take advantage of all those spare moments in the day, you have to be able to pick up the book and quickly start reading where you left off. If you need to spend the first few minutes of your reading time getting back up to speed on where the story was up to when you last put the book down, then you probably won’t actually get the chance to read anything new before your time is up. I remember my mother complaining once that she could never read in bed, because by the time she’d worked out where she was up to in the book, she’d have fallen asleep. I doubt the problem was knowing where she was physically in the book, because that problem is easily solved by a bookmark. What she meant was she had to spend so long getting *mentally* back into the story that she didn’t have time to read any more before falling asleep.

So if you want to read more, the key (apart from switching off your TV) is to learn to keep better track of where you are in the story, and to get faster at fitting new information into your mental structure of the story. And the best way to get better at those things is practice… and the best way to practice those skills is to read more. So there you have it: the secret to reading a lot is to read a lot 🙂

Well, that’s my theory, anyway…

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2 Comments

  1. Being an advid reader from a young age also attributes to high achievers.

    Children living in what’s known as a ‘1000 book family’ find it easier learning new words, are very good spellers, are able to retain and recite more information and get more meaning from text they read than children who aren’t in the 1000 book family catergory. It also encourages initiave by prompting children to research information they need by reading and weeding out irrelevant information.

    Which only provides the necessary foundations to foster a successful memeber of intellectual society.

  2. I saw that thread at bookcrossing.com too. I’m one of those slow readers, simply because I don’t devote as much time to reading as I once did. I also find that when I do get into a book, I am continuously distracted by my own thoughts about what I’m reading. A good author sparks thoughts, and I just have trouble not allowing myself to get carried away in thought. I guess I’m more of a dreamer than a reader, lol.

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