I’ve always been interested in speed reading. Partially because I’m an impatient person. Not in the sense that I get grumpy if it takes me time to read a book, but I get impatient because I look at my shelves, and at the world, and see how many things there are for me to read and dispair at ever reading it all.
I’m a pretty fast reader. I have no idea how fast, I don’t know that there’s a test for that (like there’s a test that tells me my words-per-minute typing speed). But I read quickly, I read three or four books at once and keep them all seperate in my head, and I retain most of what I read, particularly in non-fiction (this is a Very Good Thing now that I’ve gone back to school).
But still. Speed reading.
I like the idea. I love the idea of sitting down in the afternoon and powering through a book on Roman architecture and actually remembering what I read. My interest in speed reading was brought back to the surface, a couple days back, when my wife mentioned that the University has a course in speed reading. I was debating taking it, next semester.
But the big question that lingers in my head is: Is speed reading even remotely a good idea for fiction? And I tend to think not. (But it’s an unqualified opinion because I don’t speed read fiction, or know anyone who does, so it’s just hypothetical). To my way of thinking, it would break the rhythm and the structure of the story, maybe. And if you speed read, you might not get it all. And there are different levels of fiction. If I speed read a Clive Cussler novel (why? Why am I reading Clive Cussler? Am I not sleeping well?), then that’s different from speed reading Gene Wolfe, or Charles Dickens, that’s different from speed-reading Cervantes or Harry Stephen Keeler, just to throw out some authors with wildly different levels of writing and material.
I’m still uncertain. But this morning I was doing some halfhearted research on Google about it. And Wikipedia has a useful article on speed reading which discourages me away from it. It had one particular quote, though…
Speed reading courses and books take a variety of approaches to the concept of reading comprehension. Some courses and books claim that good comprehension is essential to speed reading, and that comprehension will improve with speed reading. Special non-standardized reading comprehension questionnaires are provided in order to convince the reader of the effects of the program. Some courses advise that while comprehension is important, it should not be measured or promoted. Speed reading courses variously claim that not all information in text needs to be covered while speed reading
The bolding is my own.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m sitting here going “What the hell is the point of reading if not to comprehend, and cover all the information!?” If I read a book on Rome, I may have “finished” the book, but if I haven’t comprehended it and gathered information from it, then all I’ve done is flip the pages really fast. And all THAT accomplishes is me hoping someone’s tucked a dollar bill between two pages, and now I’ve got some money.
And fiction. The Wikipedia article mentions something like a 50% retention and comprehension level. If I retain 50% of a Gene Wolfe novel, I am in pretty serious trouble. Hell, you can read a good Wolfe novel three or four times and you still won’t comprehend everything in there. And if you’re losing chunks of the book while reading quickly through it…well. It would be like trying to read it after it’s gone through a paper shredder and some of it’s been thrown away already.
So, I’m not against speed-reading. It’s just Wikipedia, after all, that occasional bastion of misinformation, mountains, and molehills. And I bet there are grades of speed reading. I bet there are techniques with which to accelerate my own reading, which would be nice, without venturing into the land of bona-fide speed reading, where I’m losing material.
(If I retained it all, though, then meeting the claimed number of reading 10,000 words a minute just sounds astonishing and fantastic. If I retained all that, I could get through so many books. That would be so cool. But I am supremely doubtful.)