Speed Reader

There are three things I remember from fifth grade: watching the solar eclipse through a pin hole camera, winning the all-school spelling bee, and being introduced to the newest sensation gripping the nation. No, I don’t mean feathered bangs (but that’s true, too).

In 1978, the new Big Thing in our elementary school was training students to be “speed readers.” The way it worked was that a story was projected onto a movie screen, paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph would appear on the screen for approximately three seconds, vanish, and then be replaced by the next paragraph of the story. Within a minute’s time, we had at least seen the entire story and were tested on our level of comprehension. Each week the pacing of the paragraphs sped up.

The purpose of this weekly exercise was to increase our productivity as we became advanced scholars. And it worked. By the time I got to college, I could bang out Tale of Two Cities in a couple of sittings.

But now that I’m done with school, how has this “talent” served me? I liken it to speed eating. Sure, if you come from a big family it’s good to eat fast lest you miss out. But do you really ever taste anything? And how is it affecting your digestion?

These days, I don’t have to rush through a book because there’s a test on the other end, and yet I still read as if it were a race. While friends savor sentences, I read each book no less than three times. The first time fast, because I can’t not race through it to see how it ends. The second time, to see what I missed the first time through. The third time, to catch the jewels of good writing that can actually help me improve as a writer.

I don’t know. Maybe there’s some benefit to the way I do it. By the third pass, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone (but maybe the author and editor) who know the book better, but I have to wonder . . . is there still time to learn a new trick?  Can I slow down and savor a book the first time through?

Yeah, I’ll have to get back to you on that. SO little time, so many, many books.



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2 responses to “Speed Reader

  1. I read very quickly too. Don’t know any other way, it is just how it works. The hardest part for me is finding time to enjoy reading- most of the time I have to rush through it.

  2. I’m also a fast reader. I finally learned to slow down a bit when I was reading, THE HISTORIAN (Elizabeth Kostova) — I was getting more and more confused because my speed-skimming was making me miss key points of the story. I try to savor now — especially as a writer, you don’t want to miss the brilliant nuances of language.

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