A friend recently asked me if I had ever tried speed reading. He, like most book people I know, is bowing under the weight of the books he wants to read, and the crushing knowledge that we’ll never get to all of them. A few years ago I had seen an infomercial of some bald guy reading books while zipping his finger along the pages, which he was apparently reading as fast as he could turn them. There was definitely something appealing to me. I wondered if it actually worked.
Like most things I wonder about, I wound up pursuing the goal of reading more quickly for the next year. I bought a book called The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program at a local bookstore. It was also in the bargain bin with the remainders, but I didn’t let that stop me. $4.67 or so later, I was at home trying to put the method into practice.
If you have ever wondered about speed reading and whether it is for you, I’d like you to take a moment and just ask yourself a couple of questions. If I was starting again I would ask myself:
- Why do I read?
- What kinds of books do I read?
I’ll take each of those questions and answer them as I talk about my experience with the Evelyn Wood method.
Why do I read?
Jeez, where to start? I read because my parents read to me before I was even born. Because I was raised in the wild by feral librarians. Because I love to learn. Because I want to be more curious every day. Because I have questions. Because sometimes I need to escape into some ridiculous vampire story. Because it’s fun. Because I admire good writing. Because it is part of who I am. Because I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. And so on.
The question I could have asked before starting the program is: Would reading faster take away or diminish any of these reasons?
What kind of books do I read?
If you’ve been following this blog for even a day you’ve probably noticed that I’m all over the place. I write compulsively according to moods and intuitions, without a ton of thought to why I am doing it. I’m the same way in my choice of books. I let myself get blown around by whims and happy accidents. I read what people recommend to me. I read books I chance upon at work. I read books from booklists that I am trying to check off.
Fiction, non-fiction, science, history, religion, trashy novels and literary masterpieces, comic books…you get the picture.
If I was going to start the method again, I would have asked myself if reading any particular subjects more quickly would make them less pleasurable or instructive.
How do you speed read?
There are a couple of answer here, but first, another question for you: when you slow down in your reading, why is that? Is it fatigue? An ability to concentrate? Are you easily distracted?
So the first answer is–you’ll be able to read faster if you cut out the things that you know slow you down.
Reading more quickly is simply a matter of taking in more information at a glance. Your eyes make fewer stops per page, per paragraph, and per sentence. This is one of the primary things that all speed-reading books I have read have in common. They encourage you to learn to read two or three words at once, visually scanning blocks of text and learning to take in more and more at once.
Equally important is staying on track. Have you ever seen the bald guy reading fast with his finger? Evelyn Wood also says get your finger and and keep it moving in various patterns on the page that will help your eyes track, and keep you on pace.
One thing I found very interesting was the idea that eliminating the internal voice that reads along with you–if you “hear” the words in your mind as you read silently, that’s what I mean–can speed things up for you. When I focused on that, I did find that I hear my own voice in my head as I would read.
The idea is that if you’re hearing this voice, you can only read as fast as you can speak. If you make the experience of reading primarily a visual one–without losing reading comprehension–then you are only limited by the rate at which your lovely eyes can flit around the page.
Does it work?
I put in some serious time with the Wood method. It works. You can learn to read many, many more words per minute than you are able to right now.
But I gave it up because of the two questions I asked up above. Speed reading is well-suited to some books and subjects. Others not at all. Why? Because you’re reading at the speed of light and the point is not to slow down.
If I was reading a book of philosphy and ran into a deep concept that deserved greater examination, or suddenly saw three words in a sentence that I couldn’t define, the choices are:
- Keep the pace, don’t ponder, forget those stupid words, they suck anyways
- Slow down and do “normal” reading
I ran into the same issue when I was reading something that I wanted to enjoy for the lyrical qualities of the writing. If you have no idea what that means, flip open to any page of Sophie’s Choice and try to savor the way the words work together at ludicrous speed.
If I wanted to write an article about banned books and I had to do serious research, I could never do it at that pace, so the infomercial’s promises of getting your textbooks read in 10 seconds or so wouldn’t have worked for me at all. And on that note, I couldn’t have learned any math or science this way either. Those are difficult reads for me under any circumstances and things only begin to make sense to me with multiple, slooooow readings.
It worked best with me for fun, easy novels. If I was reading purely for story, I could blast through a 300 page fluff read and pick up all the relevant plot points and get a picture of the paper-thin characters. Speed reading novels seemed ideal. But I could get most of that information from reading the dust jacket.
So that is the verdict for now, from me: it works, but I don’t like the experience of reading that quickly. Even though I want to read as many books as possible, I want to enjoy as many as possible, as much as possible.
Anyone else tried this?
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