22 November 2011

I want you to stop speed reading

I want you to stop speed reading. I want you to not worry about how many books you’ve read and focus on the one that you’re reading right now. Speed reading is for panicking students and literary agents. It’s not for the likes of you and I.

On your marks…

I tried speed reading a few months ago. I’d never done it before, but I was worried about having not read enough this year and thought it might help me tackle my backlog of books. I got some advice off the internet. Hints, tips and techniques.

And then I set to it with gusto. I started reading and, it turns out, the internet was right. Before I knew it, I’d sped read my way through more than half a novel. It was incredible. Like lightning.

The problem was, I hadn’t a clue what was going on. Okay, I’d got a gist of things, but I was sure I must’ve missed out on some of the novel’s subtleties. Yes, I’d turned the pages, that much is true, but I didn’t feel like I’d really read the book. Not properly. Not like the author intended.

Speed reading felt like cheating. Speed reading is cheating.

It does neither reader nor author justice. What you end up with is an impression of something having happened. Pale paragraphs that you can never fully recall. Silhouettes of broken sentences.

That’s not how I want to read. It’s not how I want to be read.

Good reading = good writing

As a writer, it’s not enough to have read lots of books. You need to understand them too. More than that, you need to learn from them.

In an interview I did last month with prize-winning author, Edward Hogan, he described how he makes constant notes while reading, because: ‘I like trying to work out how good things are done.’

That’s exactly it. That right there.

Some writers feel like they can’t switch off when they read. I say why on earth would you want to? You’re not a normal reader. It’s your job to analyse and dissect other people’s writing. Go with it. Accept your fate.

Writing is craft and craft can be improved. Practice will help, of course, but so will quality reading. Reading that has your full attention. Reading that you care about.

There are many great books in the world. You’re not going to read them all. However, you can make sure that the books you do read get the time and focus that they deserve.

Don’t rush. Don’t speed. Enjoy.

8 Comments

  1. Randy Murray

    Good for you. I agree on all points. Speed reading simply doesn’t work.

    And as you might expect, I’ve had something to say about this myself: http://whowritesforyou.com/2011/09/12/youre-reading-too-fast/

  2. I’ve never sped-read a book that I wanted to read for myself, and I never will. Yes, sometimes it takes me a long time to finish the book, but so what? If I’m enjoying the novel, why rush the experience?

    That’s like eating a delicious meal as quickly as possible to get to an equally-delicious dessert (although some people do that, too…) Anyway, I don’t think the point is how many books you’ve read, rather that you get something out of the books you do read.

  3. KjM

    Poetry cured a habit I’d picked up in my teens of speed reading (picked up for now good reason – or any reason at all).

    You can’t speed read poetry. It was a gift.

    And no, I don’t/can’t “turn off” when I’m reading. I enjoy seeing the atchitecture under a story and marvel at the ability of the author of a well-told story. As they say in the US, it’s a “two-for”. I get a good story and maybe learn something of storytelling at the same time.

    So, agreed. Speed reading is cheating – you’re cheating yourself.

  4. Completely agree but it also depends on what one is reading. Most technical material or product reviews can be read quickly without losing its key message. Any kind of literary, philosophical or generally ruminative stuff is a different issue though..

    “Pale paragraphs that you can never fully recall. Silhouettes of broken sentences.”
    Beautiful sentences those…am not forgetting those in a hurry :)

  5. russian dude

    hey you … speed reading and watching sentences without understanding it, are not the same things

    speed reading is about fast mind but not fast eyes, so i disagree that speed reading is cheating

    simple test, try to read words backward … MENTALLY … i mean pick some word (more than 6 letters long), remember it and try to ‘see’ it in yor mind, than try to read it backward

    hard? i agree, and imagine if you will train yourself to ‘mentally see’ whole sentences

  6. Abby Marks Beale

    You make a good point about speed reading but I’d like to add that speed reading is always a choice. If you never learn the strategies available to you to read faster, then you never will and everything will have to be read slowly. BUT once you know and can use the faster reading strategies, you will be able to apply them when you choose. You will always slow down when reading poetry, the Bible, Shakespeare, dialogue (plays) and when committing info to memory. All other materials you have choice about, IF you learn to speed read!

  7. Stephen

    Sorry, but I don’t agree at all. I was born a speed reader and am 14. I can recall every page and comprehend every book I read(that’s been a lot). I should be at the 8th grade reading level, but instead I’m college reading level. So, I completely disagree with you on doing disgrace to the author because if you buy their book, they are making money, and when people make money, they’re happy. I don’t agree with you on any of your accusations you made.

  8. Dakota

    I disagree with this mostly due to the fact that I have trained myself to speed read ever since I was younger. I don’t miss out on the books words nor the overall feel of the book because I enjoy reading. I can read 1500 pages within an hour or so with 99% comprehension and it doesn’t drastically decrease peoples overall understanding of the book as long as you execute the reading procedures correctly.

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