Speed Reading 04/06/21

Everybody who reads has a stack of books to get through. They pile up higher and higher, and we tell ourselves “I will get through these, by god,” but we never really do. I mean, look at me. This year, I wanted to read through all of Stephen Graham Jones’ books. But then I wanted to go through James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet again. And then there are a few new books, one by Agustín Fernandez Mallo (got my ARC today), a new one by the aforementioned Ellroy (although it’s an “Otash-in-hell” book, which I’m not super stoked about, but I have my ARC)…the list goes on and on.

What if there was a way to get through those books just a little bit quicker?

Yesterday, I googled “speed reading” and came upon this man Howard Berg. He looks and sounds like Barney Frank. Seems like a sweet guy, and he also holds the Guinness World Record for speed reading.

I was curious, so I took a reading test. Turns out I get through text at about 250 words per minute, which is standard. At that rate, finishing your average 75k-word novel would take me 5 hours, which sounds about right.

That’s fuckin’ slow.

Reading through the tips and tricks to read faster, they seem to be broken down into these simple rules:

  1. Don’t re-read. I do this all the time. And usually, I know that I know what I just read, but there’s a little itch in the brain that says Are you sure you got that? Just keep it moving.
  2. Skim first, then focus. If you have an idea of what a page is trying to do, you get a framework for the reading, and then you get through the page quicker.
  3. Quiet the inner voice. When we read, we translate that into sounds that we hear in our minds. The trick is to actually turn that off, to get a direct laser beam of information.
  4. Read in chunks. Start learning to see entire sentences instead of individual words. We can see and comprehend nine at a time.

The way Mr. Berg reads doesn’t seem like a whole lot of fun. Sometimes it’s sinking down into the prose that creates the major pleasures of reading. The hope that I have, anyway, is that I can read faster, get through more books, but then consciously choose to go back to “sink in” to passages that strike me as particularly beautiful. It’s a more focused, agented way of approaching a text, rather than slavishly taking my time through filler paragraphs, and even necessary filler paragraphs.

I’ve started using some of these tips, and they do work. You get “The Information,” and after a while you’re actually “Feeling the Prose” as well. I’m sure there’s an upper limit to this, where you’re just getting the info, which is great if you’re a student or a lawyer or something.

Maybe I will make a dent in this TBR stack.

Who am I kidding?

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