Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 19 November 2012

I cannot speed-read...

... I never could.

I can read the first and last sentence of every paragraph in a book and pick up capital letters and key words, so that I get the gist of a thing, and, like everyone else, I do skim for research purposes, but I find it deeply unsatisfying, and, dare I say it, soul destroying.

For those of you who still get the reference, I wouldn’t listen to a 33rpm vinyl record played at 45, except perhaps for the comedy value, and I wouldn’t watch a movie on fast forward. I don’t watch and skip, either, so why would I speed read a book? And why on Earth would I read a book that way and say I was doing it for pleasure?

Of course, some books are pretty quick to read, generally because the writing style is simple, making the reading effortless, and that’s OK, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t read every word.

It is possible to read some books quickly, certainly more quickly than it would be possible for someone to read a book aloud, annunciating every word, but there are books that give of their best when read at a pace similar to that of reading aloud.

There are those of you that are thinking, about now, that I am probably insane, that there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week, but that’s like saying there was no point building Stone Henge or the Pyramids.

Even if it took twice as long to read the average novel, you might go from an eight hour read to a sixteen hour read, but if it’s a good book, that’s double the pleasure and twice the value for money.

I don’t want to just grab at a plot. I don’t want to just know what happened. I want to feel the writer’s intentions, I want to start to get into his or her rhythm, I want to start to know where the thing is going and how the next paragraph is likely to unravel. I don’t want to just understand the characters; there’s more to it than that.

The vast majority of us are readers in a way that we are not, for example, artists or musicians; more of us are potential experts in the written word than in any other art form, and I think we take it far too much for granted. I think the fact that we take it far too much for granted means that we sell it short, and expect too little from it.

Read more, read more thoroughly, read more deeply, and it should mean that you get more from your read. I hope that you will. If you don’t get more from your read, and that doesn’t bother you, go back to rattling through heaps of trashy paperbacks, and I wish you joy of them, but if you don’t get more from your read, and that does bother you... Well, that opens up another whole can of worms, doesn’t it?


  1. I hear what you are saying, but my normal reading speed is fast, much faster than I could read out loud. I do read out loud, to my dyslexic husband, who enjoyed hearing a story at that pace, savouring it but it's too slow for me. I enjoy books more on re-reading, and you get a new layer each time. A good, challenging book takes me 4 hours, an easy book around 2, and a well loved book I have already read zips by in 90 minutes, like a film. What I can't do is slow down, because reading speed is partly down to how many words your eye takes in at a time - two or three maybe is normal, or six or seven is fast. We can actually read a phrase at a time, our brains decoding as we go. Skim reading is just looking out for a sample of significant words, and I can't do that any faster than proper reading. We adapt to our natural style of reading and it would probably take me a similar time to get every last nuance out of a book - I would just do it by re-reading.

  2. We were taught to speed-read at school to help with the A Level reading/workload and it helped a great deal. Unfortunately, I subsequently found that it ruined books I was trying to read purely for enjoyment. No matter how hard I tried, I would always slip back into skimming the pages. I'd finish the book in a matter of hours and could tell you what happened to who, when, where and why but the pleasure of reading had completely disappeared. Books had become just about facts and figures. Information to be gleaned in the shortest time available. In short, the magic was gone. Coincidentally, the book that saved me was Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, a book ABOUT magic. A beautiful, wonderful book that refused to be skimmed, a book that demanded you immerse yourself completely, the book that saved my (reading) life.

  3. When I was maybe 10-12 I was in private school. Part of the reading classes was a course where a projector showed a line of text, then another, then another in rapid succession, then they had tests for comprehension. This went on for the year I was there and in the end the projector was flipping through lines pretty fast. I aced the classes. So I read fast.

    I don't skim, that seems to take me just as long if not longer than simply reading. Some folks seem to be of the mind that they get more out of it, but I doubt it. I savor the text, feel the writer's flow, digest meaning(s) all the same things any other reader does...just in approximately half the time. So if I'm shorted anything it's the eight hours of a novel enjoyment instead of four. Which is sucky. That said, I just crack open another book and jog on. Ironically I'm an ADD kid and mildly dyslexic. My dyslexia only impacts my working with numbers, not words. Weird but ok. Usually when reading I'm hyperfocused instead of underfocused. Maybe that's a factor.