Slow, slow or quick quick reading?
In a recent post on Thinking in Fragments, Alex asked for suggestions on how to fit more reading into her day. I wish I had some pearls of wisdom to send her way but I’m struggling with the same issue myself. When I first started blogging and interacting on Library Thing I was flabbergasted to see how many books many of the members seemed to get through. Quite a few LibraryThing members seemed to read a new book every day whereas I think I’m doing pretty well if I can read a book a week.
I dont want to play the numbers game here. For me it’s not a competition between readers to see who can read the biggest number of titles. Nor are numbers themselves particularly meaningful – someone who reads a lot of novellas is clearly going to have a higher total than someone who reads a lot of nineteenth century novels ( those Victorians dos like to write a lot). My desire to read more stems from the fact a) it’s an activity I love so why not invest more time in doing what I love and b) there are just zillions of authors I have yet to discover and at my current rate it’s going to take me decades to get to them all.
I know I am not the only one facing this dilemma. Looking around the Internet I find a range of approaches people have adopted in response.
Aim to read at least 10% of your chosen book every day is the advice on one blog ( helpfully it suggests that if you have a particularly long book then 5% a day might be more manageable. Break this into smaller periods of reading if that works best with your schedule. So if you have a 500 page book, try reading 25 pages in two sessions or if that doesn’t work, go down to the 25 pages (5% ) a day, read across two sessions.
A variation of this approach is to read a set number of pages per day. This was the plan adopted by Andy Miller when he embarked on his Year of Reading Dangerously. Except his target was 50 pages. Which was ok when he had days involving a train commute to work but on weekends he found he was making excuses to go to the Post Office just so he could read while standing in the queue (if the Post Office keeps on closing their local branches, the queues will inevitably get longer which is good for readers but not much fun if all yiu want is to buy a stamp).
Get up earlier is another popular piece of advice. “If you can only devote 15-30 minutes of reading each morning you can read 20-30 books year” according to an article at life hack.org which is great if yiu happen to be the kind of person who is bright and alert in the morning. But I’m no lark so that approach is doomed to failure. I do sometimes go to bed earlier though, just so I can read a few extra pages.
How about reading instead of watching tv? I dont watch that much anyway.
If I can’t find any more time in the day, could I maybe read faster. According to Tony Buzan and many other experts In speed reading techniques and time management it’s possible, with enough practice, to increase from the average reading speed of 200-400 words per minute to around 1000-1700 words per minute. Even at the lower end of that scale it could mean I get to read five times as much.
Theres a catch here however. It’s all to do with how you interpret the word ‘Reading’ . Certainly I would get through a book quicker so strictly speaking yes I would be reading faster. But would I understand what I was reading? Probably not according to research. All of the popular methods such as skimming, meta guiding and Rapid Serial Visual Presentation have drawbacks. In Keith Rayner’s “Eye movements and information processing during reading” he comments
You can practice going faster and you probably will, but when you start going too fast you’ll start losing comprehension. Most speed reading methods involve getting rid of subvocalization. Research shows that when you do that and the text is difficult, comprehension goes to pieces.
This means I would be reading my books faster but I wouldn’t actually be absorbing what I was reading. Which really defeats the purpose doesn’t it? I could get to the end of a long novel and feel super smug and satisfied but then if anyone were to ask me to explain the book or describe it, I would struggle to recall any detail. For me that mean all those hours I spent reading would have been wastes effort. There are further enlightening comments about speed reading techniques in this article f you’re interested. I’ve read enough now to know that speed reading will not be the answer for me. I think I’ll just resolve to enjoy what I’m reading, and to go for quanity over quantity.