Some people are speed readers. I am not one of those people. Some people can read a whole novel in a day. The last time I accomplished this was when I was 12 years old on a summer afternoon reading a Nancy Drew mystery. I do everything slowly. I guess everyone has their natural pace. I like to do one thing at a time in an unhurried manner, and dislike multitasking. In fact, I actually take longer when I try to hurry! When it comes to reading, I generally prefer to take my time through a book, thinking, copying out quotes, and of course reading out loud and doing all the voices to involve myself more in the story.
I remember watching an infomercial on tv when I was young, where this “mr. amazing man” could skim read through a whole chapter in about 1 min. and then relate to the host what it was about. (For the record, I didn’t really believe him.) If you bought their course for a certain price, they could teach all students the skills they needed to skim any book and it would change their life FOREVER! When I was middle school, I had a friend who read voraciously. One time she checked “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” out of the school library and read that 629 page-book (I know, because I looked) between classes, in 3 days. Maybe this feat is easy as pie to some folks, but I remember wondering if she really understood what she was reading. I also know a friend who admits she skips over the ‘boring narrative’ just to get to the action and dialogue scenes.
I wonder why it’s tempting to read so fast. I guess when you think about it, our culture is increasingly fast paced in everything we do, so why would our reading habits escape this speed? We could also consider our general attitude of instant gratification and the fact that we’re not used to having to wait for much in life. Texting’s quicker than calling. Microwave popcorn. EZ Pass. Instant mashed potatoes. And so when we sit down to read, we can’t wait to see what happens. Many readers don’t have the patience to persevere through parts that don’t meet their immediate interests. What a long way we’ve come from books being published in serial form in magazines some 100 years ago! Some people even flip to the back of the book to see what happens first and read the story backwards! Another reason for skim reading could be that we are so goal driven that the more books we can add to our list of accomplishments the better. It ceases to be about stories and becomes more list oriented.
Good books are not meant to be inhaled. If you’re a writer, do you want your readers to skim their way through what you put your heart and soul into? It’s like putting the mind on auto-numb when we read like this. There are emotions to be felt, words to be appreciated, atmosphere to be sensed, ideas to process, and characters to get to know over time.
I think there can be exceptions to the rule. For example, sometimes I don’t want to commit myself to a particular book for whatever reason, but I’m curious to see what happened in the end, so I’ll flip to the back. There are also times when I feel a certain scene gets a little too steamy for my taste (yes, sometimes even in some Christian fiction books), and I decide it’s in my best interest to skip over it. And of course, there are always those fun exceptions when we get ahold of a book that’s so hard to put down and we spend half the night reading away. Sometimes, that is almost half the fun of the experience of reading. But for the most part, those times are rare and I don’t think it’s healthy to read habitually like this. My point is that the story may not be enjoyed as in-depth as it could be when it’s sped through.
I once read that chapter breaks and breaks within chapters are partly designed to make the reader pause more often in a book. Something about the brain retains the beginnings and endings of what they read, so the idea is that the more breaking off a reader does, the more they remember. I think this is true for me. I find that the books I read more quickly are the more quickly forgotten.
Are you generally a speed reader who would like to learn to slow down a little? Here are some ways to think about taking your time through a book:
1) Back off of the goals. It’s fine to set reading goals, but if this is your main objective you might not be enjoying the process of reading like you could be. Just take one book at a time.
2) Read out loud. I know I harp on this aspect of reading a lot (that’s part of the point of my blog actually, if you haven’t noticed!). But it causes you to hear the words you’re reading aloud. You can appreciate the author’s choice of language strung together better. You feel the words forming out of your mouth. Reading becomes an art form. It slows you down and elminates skim reading.
3) Be on the lookout for good quotes to copy out. You’ll be searching for gems, discerning what’s inspiring enough to be quote-worthy.
4) Try limiting your reading to one chapter a day. Or one hour a day. Or a specific time in the day. Even when you break off at a really intriguing part in the book, make yourself wait until the next day to see what happens next. This will cause you to think about the character and the story in-between times and you’ll be wondering what happens next. That is a good feeling and it means it’s a good book! The best part of a book is the “To Be Continued…” part. Enjoy the feeling of suspense!
5) And for goodness sake, don’t skip! Yes, sometimes even reading can be hard work, but if it’s a good book it has it’s benefits. Persevere! Read the book the way it was intended. This means from front to back. In chronological order. Every paragraph. Every sentence. I
f you’re naturally a speed reader, what are some reasons you like to read this way? Are there any tips you’ve learned to slow down?