Speed Reading


If left to my own devices I’m quite a slow reader. I read every word. Those who need to get a lot of reading finished know that you are not supposed to read every word. In fact, we learn this very concept in school (though many of us forget it). We are meant to read phrases. In fact, we get just as much comprehension from reading phrases as we do from reading words. Some people can even train themselves to read entire lines (I’m not there, nor do I imagine I will be… maybe ever).

If I’m not paying attention, I typically read a book like I’m trying to memorize it; word by word and often re-reading sentences or paragraphs. This is good when there is a particularly lovely passage but not when how much you read matters for your job (or even if you’d just like to get through a book in less than a month!). Lately I’ve had to remind myself to read in phrases; when I do, I scream through a book. When I don’t, it can take weeks. Here’s another reason that reading slower makes for a slower finish; you get bored faster. The pacing of a book can have quite a lot more to do with the pacing of our reading than one might think. If you are slowly reading through a dry spot in a book, you are less likely to turn to that book for entertainment and therefore will be more likely to put off the reading (and the finishing) of the book. If you can speed read through these dry spots, you are more likely to find yourself in a more interesting passage of the book, and so on.

For me – there will always be certain types of books that I slow-read. However, for the most part (and for most contemporary literature) I can, and should, get by with speed reading. What about you? Are you a natural speed reader (or a self-taught speed reader), or do you take a leisurely stroll through all of your books?

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35 thoughts on “Speed Reading

  1. Good topic. I’m a slow reader – i read every word. Some books I do rush through it, but mostly it’s because it’s an easy read.

    Difficult books, you’d think I want to speed read them, but in fact I find myself reading every word, going back and forth and trying to solve the puzzle. It is a bit pedantic, but I guess I’m a pedantic reader :( But I have a rule – always finish a book. There are some cases where I would leave a book and carry on with another,but I always come back and finish it. Maybe it’s because I purchase all my books

    • It almost physically hurts me to not finish a book! I know what you mean. It so very rarely happens; the book has to be pretty awful for me to set it down and not pick it back up.

      • Same here, Sarah. I feel like i’m cheating if I dont finish it. Always tell myself, “maybe it will get better”. In some cases it doesnt and in some cases the book surprises me towards the end.

    • It sounds like we read the same way (and I’ll even come back to books later, but have no problem giving up if I don’t care for them). I’m trying to be cognizant of reading slower than needed, but it’s hard!

  2. I put in a lot of effort after college to stop speed reading. I only do it now if I’m reading to extract information as fast as possible. If I’m reading for pleasure I want to respect the full experience that the author and editors may have spent years working out, which can mean a balance between forward momentum and taking it all in. That said, I can happily read 100 pages a day while paying attention. If I bog down, if I start not wanting to pick up the book again, I will start to consider if it is me or the author, but if a book becomes enough of a painful struggle, as opposed to an interesting struggle, I don’t care who liked it, out it goes, and on to the next.

    If I think it was me, I’ll go back at some later time and try again. There are books I’ve picked up several times over years before finally making up my mind about them. But I will never have time in this life to find and read all the books I’ll love. They aren’t all worth the effort.

    • Yes, you hit it on the head. I want to respect the writer and his/her time put into the writing of the piece. And I don’t think that hastily reading a piece does that. I don’t always read for the story itself. I read for the words, the carefully chosen phrases.

  3. I have never given much thought as to the process by which I read a book, but I guess I would have to admit to NOT being a speed reader. I try to read as many of the author’s words as possible. At age 75 and a retired librarian, I read mainly for pleasur/entertainment, skipping passages/sections of a book only when I know they will be upsetting. I have finally given myself permission to NOT finish a book if, after 50 or so pages, it has not “grabbed” me. The actual printed page is still my favorite way to read a book. When I purchase a book I try to wean one from my collection, sharing it with a friend or giving it to the Library’s monthly used book sale.
    I have only recently discovered “book blogs” and am enjoying them immensely..

    • Welcome to book blog land, glad to have you! I read once that you should minus your age from 100, and that is the amount of pages you should read before you know whether or not to give up on a book (I guess they figured the more mature you are, the faster you will know your tastes). I admit that I don’t always use that rule (sometimes the book goes in the giveaway pile after only a couple of chapters), but I always thought that was an interesting idea. I wonder, as a librarian, what you would tell your patrons? Did you use 50 pages as a staple for trying out a new book?

  4. I despise speed reading! It is not enjoyable to me, it is not why I personally read. I know it’s necessary for some things, but if a book is really good, I want to savor it. Reading just to get through something isn’t enjoyable. It’s not why I read. That being said, I am super selective with what I will pick up and read because of this, too. I tend to not just muscle through a book because I started it. It has to hold me from the beginning. My discipline lacks in this department, to be sure. But I wonder,.writers now a days … Are they writing by and large, or at least to a big part, for people who read professionally

    • I think authors write mostly for the average readers. In fact, in my opinion it seems that writing has become more of a business than it used to be, and a lot of books seem to be written for the market (meaning, whatever is popular at the moment). This is more easily done today thanks (or no thanks?) to technology.

      • I couldn’t agree more with your analysis of today’s writing. It’s hard to find a really wonderful, one-of-a-kind current book anymore!

  5. I’m a natural speed reader. With three small children (#4 on the way!) and a full time job we are constantly on the go. Add to that a very Type A personality, I shower fast, eat fast, drive fast, read fast.

    I love reading classics because they force me to slow down. You can’t speed read a classic. I find myself doing it out of habit and I have to go back and re-read paragraphs. I love savoring the beautiful language and insightful passages. Lately I like to always be reading one along side something lighter. A good classic and a cup of tea is my favorite way to wind down at night after a whirlwind day!

    • You are how I read when I am paying attention! (And how my friend, who inspired my to read a little faster) reads. Congrats on #4 – hats off to you busy lady!

      Have you finished Les Mis yet (that was you right??). I’ll note the name change (welcome to WordPress), thanks!

      • Yes that was me and no, not even close to done yet. About 300 pages in, how silly of me to think I’d be able to just breeze through per usual. I am just totally enamored of the book but it is to be digested slowly, that’s for sure. So I might have to hold out for the dvd release, as painful as that will be!

  6. Wallace…this is “Sarah D”. I finally signed up for an account so I assume sarahdulitz will replace the Sarah D…if you want to make note for the read-a-long. :)

  7. This is an interesting discussion! I don’t speed read…on purpose. I know I’m a fast reader but I do read every word. If I skip a phrase I always feel guilty and go back to read it, lol.

  8. I’m a speed reader – unintentionally. I just read that way and always have. I never knew we were supposed to just read phrases – I’ve always read every word. Hmmm. Its interesting to think about.

    • That’s interesting, you read every word, but are a speed reader? (My teacher side wants to study you, haha!) You must just keep your eyes moving, and continuing down the page then. Sometimes, when we read every word, our eyes automatically go over the words again (which is why we are supposed to take in phrases instead). Phrases (only three to four words at a time) are pretty much what our eyes can see easily in one glance, so that’s why they encourage it, I guess. Fascinating when you think about it.

  9. I’m a quick reader, and have thought about trying to learn how to speed read. But I worry that if I do, I’ll lose a lot of the meaning and thought about books, so I think I’ll just stick to my reading quickly!

    • I looked at the speed reading courses for research, and it seems that (unless you would need it for work) it might not be beneficial if you are already a naturally quick reader. Have you looked into it?

      • I haven’t looked into it, but I have an ancient book on speed reading that was probably my grandma’s or something. It’s a little intimidating, but I should probably take some time to look into it.

  10. I was an English Major in college at a time when “close reading” was very popular and something we did in all of our classes. I’m a trained snail reader :) That isn’t to say I can’t also zip through, for example, work-related stuff to find the most important bits, but I never do that with literature. Even when I devour books, it’s because I spend hours and hours reading them, not because I zip through them.

    • Interesting, I think of you as a quick reader, but maybe you are just spending more time reading than I thought? When I go too slowly I lack focus, and (like I mentioned above) I have to re-read. Therefore, my comprehension level can be lower when I’m reading too slow than when I’m conscious of my pace. Interesting? Or weird? :)

  11. I have always tended towards reading quickly and have had to practice at making myself slow down when the writing calls for it (if I have to slow down because it wasn’t written well, I can get peevish!) There are times when I catch myself not only reading phrases or lines, but pulling in multiple lines at a time (sometimes skipping around, back and forth on the page, to boot)…maybe that’s why I occasionally miss the finer details!

    I liked what you said here…so true:
    “The pacing of a book can have quite a lot more to do with the pacing of our reading than one might think.”

    • You read very much like a good friend of mine (who finishes large books in a matter of days). I’m envious of this natural ability to gobble up a book. I agree that it’s important to slow down sometimes, but there are plenty of books that don’t need to be read for language but rather for plot – and those, in my opinion, are perfect for the type of reading you do. It allows you to intake the story without wasting too much time on it. Jealous. :)

    • That is very much how I read a book! I swear I have reader’s ADD sometimes. And I tend to miss fine details also, hence why I loooooove the read-a-longs. :)

  12. I think I’m a fairly slow reader. I tend to read online articles quickly to get to the good information, but when reading a book I prefer to read at a leisurely pace. According to the Staples reading speed test, my reading speed is pretty close to the average for adults … which is between the speeds for 8th and 11th graders, much lower than the supposed reading speed for college students and “high scoring college students” (although I have to wonder — high scoring in what? Do they have high reading speeds or high academic scores?). As someone who just graduated from college with excellent grades and a life-long love of reading, I thought I would score higher. I’ve never thought I was an especially fast reader, but I was surprised that my reading speed is the same as a 9th grader’s should be!

    Oh well, what I lack in speed, I make up for in comprehension (I hope). I just don’t like to feel rushed in my reading; speed reading just makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m reading for pleasure, and I want to take pleasure in what I’m reading, not just breeze through it as fast as I can.

    • When I tested myself, I was astonished at how slow I was reading, too. I’ll have to find that test and post it. I would love to see how many people are surprised by at what level they are reading (especially if it’s faster than average and they think they are going slow).

  13. I have to admit to being a speed reader. I always go in with the best of intentions–slow done, savor–but I’ll get caught up in the action of the book and will start speeding through. So a slower reader the first third and fast for the remaining two thirds?

    • Haha! I think there is a profound difference between reading quickly and speed reading (I think I should have titled this post differently). I think what most people are thinking of speed reading means not actually reading everything on the page (which I call skimming)… I really just mean not holding yourself back from getting the book done. I LOVE it when a book is juicy enough for me to tear through it without even thinking about it. Carry on, I say!

  14. I’m a fast reader generally and have to tell myself to slow down when I realise that I am missing beautifully phrased prose. But it does depend on the book because sometimes I can’t get any pace up at all. Or maybe I read at different speeds on different days? That’s equally likely.

  15. I have GOT to learn how to do this. I read every word (unless it is a dry spot like a long detailed list of what someone is wearing for instance.) It takes me FOREVER to finish a book. I see others finishing a book in a day. Never happened in my life. It doesn’t help I can’t read just one book at a time because I am so A.D.D. I get bored sticking to just one even if I am in love with it. But, I really do need to learn to read in phrases. That is on my agenda for 2013.

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