So confession. I’ve always been an incredibly slow reader. There have been many times when it’s been embarrassing, like reading a webpage at work with someone else and repeatedly asking them to stop scrolling because they are three paragraphs a head. In college it was damn near a handicap, and there was many a time I envied some of my classmates who could blaze through their reading, as it meant they had a great deal more free time to do as they pleased.

My wife is like this. She can read a novel in 3 days that might take me 3 weeks to finish. When I read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series it took me over a year to complete. I’ve been reading Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey for the last two months and I’m still not finished. (Admittedly I seldom get more then 20 minutes a day to read of late).

On asking how these speed readers accomplish this task I came to learn that it is not always what it seems. Some people just apply different strategies to their reading. Some of them are exceptionally talented skimmers for instance. One woman I spoke to about it told me that she didn’t so much read as she ‘absorbed’ a book. Some were exactly what they appeared to be, their eyes and brain just seemed to be able to accomplish the task of lifting words off the page and forming comprehension faster than mine. I don’t employ any strategies. I read every little word for fear that I might miss something. That said I’m not denouncing anyone else’s technique.

Now, my title promises that I will point to some advantages for slow readers. Well, it goes without saying that I’ve noticed my retention is higher. Three years from now I’ll remember a story line with a great deal of detail, but there are probably a lot of speed readers that would argue they don’t have issues with retention. I will say this though, being a slow reader makes me experience the book longer. It tends to make me dwell on the thoughts and ideas of the author longer.

I’ll give another example outside of reading that I think is appropriate. I’ve seen people who will watch the entire series of a television show in a matter of days. I learned a long time ago that the experience they are looking for in their entertainment was more short-lived then mine. Some often go so far as to increase the speed of an audio book or movie just so they can complete the experience faster. Personally I find this sacrilege. Directors should be crying out in outrage. I even go so far as to get annoyed when someone wants to fast forward the opening credits of a movie as I feel the whole experience is to be absorbed as the director intended. Even if I’m watching black text with music in the background, that music is psychologically preparing my mind for the mood of the film.

Now, I’m sure there is still enjoyment to be had, but this rapid absorption often makes me think they are missing about 50 % of the actual content that the creator is providing. Sure, they see and comprehend the story, but do they notice the blue filter over the lens? The fractured mirrors that the main character is looking into? The way a shadow is covering a characters face as he begins to turn to the dark side? Admittedly these are the friends who tend to fidget in theaters and who would shock me if they paused a movie and utter a sentence that started with “I think what the director is trying to show us here is….”

I now find my slow reading to be more of a blessing than a curse. Absorbing the experience instead of just the entertainment is important as it helps me to design the experience I want my readers to have when they pick up my stories. Again, I am not saying that every speed racer out there isn’t capable of picking up all the subtleties of another person’s work. I guess in the end my point is that it’s helpful to stop and smell the flowers.

One thought

  1. I have thought the same thing. I see some people who turn the pages at rapid rates and I wonder are they only skimming the words that took someone an agony of time and love to produce.

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