Posted by: Yorgos | February 8, 2009

Text 35 – Speed Reading

I recently ran across this website (via StumbleUpon – more on this on some later post, hopefully) that was trying to teach its visitor how to read at a great speed. It also listed the advantages of speed reading over normal (?) reading.

Now, I am a slow reader; not just that: I read excruciatingly slowly; sometimes it takes me up to three minutes to finish a page. Given my chosen potential career, that can’t be good and I should start thinking of trying to learn how to read faster. This site (I can’t link to it, I never bookmarked it and I really don’t want to look for it), though I was quite skeptical about it, had me slightly convinced, until it came to a point that went something like this (this is not an exact quote: “Words are just words. In the end, it’s the message that needs to stay with you, not the words you are reading. By skipping passages you think are insignificant, you can read faster and still learn all there is to learn”.

To this I can only answer: WHAT? Words are just words and it’s just the ideas that we need to keep? That is entirely false; not just slightly false; entirely. And not in poetry or fiction; it stands for every book ever written. Mallarme had once had a conversation with a friend of his. The friend was complaining that he had so many ideas, but he can’t seem to put them to writing. Mallarme then answered that books are written with words, not ideas.

I may be reading slowly, but at least I know I will not miss a beautiful phrase, a great argument, a clever pun, an interesting allusion. These are also the things that define whether I like a book or not, not just the ideas, which are highly important, of course, but only a small element of what makes reading appealing.

So, I will continue to read slowly, 3 minutes a page is just fine for me (the book was proposing an average of one page per minute and was a promising that it could get us to 100 pages per hour). I will just spend more hours with the book, making it my company and not something that I need to get through quickly. True reading is never fast.

PS: When there’s time pressure and exams or deadlines closing in, I may allow an exception. But speed reading should never be the answer anyway. That’s the job of time management.


  1. I read an average of three pages per minute as well. Time pressure and deadlines don’t change that either. Under pressure, I just have to choose to read less, whether that means I don’t finish a book, only read a chapter, or skip it altogether in favour of something higher on the priority list.

    For the past two years, countless people have told me I should learn to speed read. They don’t seem to get that I’m not just reading to get the gist of the text. If that were the case I could just read the wikipedia page. What’s important for us, as you well know, is often in the words and the details. And those details need some thinking over as well. That said, in some disciplines, speed reading is probably the way to go. Or even with recreational reading – I’m sure you would still feel like you’d gotten the idea if you were to skim through large parts of a Malcolm Gladwell book or something similar. If you’re not into literature that’s probably fine.

    I spent a large part of last week doing a super close reading of To The Lighthouse. After all those hours I still only got through half of it. I’m not going to get what I need from it by scanning for the basic ideas. And stopping to take notes or mark up passages makes the whole process so much slower yet.

  2. I am glad that you are one of us, slow readers. On the other hand in your comment, you say that you read three pages per minute. This is either a typo or I don’t even want to imagine how your speed reading is.

  3. Oops, typo for sure. One page every three minutes is more my speed. Sometimes with fiction, if it’s really easy reading, I can squeeze in a page every two minutes, but some details are inevitably lost on me at that speed.

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