Thursday, December 17, 2009

Speed Reading

Booking Through Thursday asks:

What do you think of speed-reading? Is it a good way to get through a lot of books, or does the speed-reader miss depth and nuance? Do you speed-read? Is some material better suited to speed-reading than others?

I don’t have an issue with the concept of speed reading non-fiction.  I don’t speed read myself but I can read very fast when I want to and part of the reason is that I naturally do some of the things that they teach you in speed reading.  I skim through taking in key words. 

But I don’t think that works for fiction.  I can read fast, and I’ll skim parts of fiction, but I’m looking for the point where I can slow down again.   I agree with Evan Maloney who recently wrote in the Guardian:

Did the world's great novelists really spend years agonising over the pitch and rhythm of their sentences so some time-efficient post-modern reader could skim over the text like a political spin doctor searching for soundbites in the transcript of a ministerial speech? I don't think so. Speed reading might be an effective tool for office documents, textbooks, and letters of unrequited love, but the prose of great literature should be savoured, should it not? Part of the joy of reading comes from "hearing" our psychic palates pronouncing the words in the mind's ear; the imagined speech, "richly flavoured like a nut or an apple".

When I’m in the middle of a novel I’m loving, I want to slow down, not speed up.  

But let’s go back to the BTT question.   I really do think that some people want to get through a lot of books and the question I have is, why?   It’s a real question, not snark.   I really don’t understand the concept of getting through a lot of books as a goal in and of itself UNLESS it is for a class and is assigned reading.   I certainly wish I had more time to read.  And when I do (when I’m on vacation) I can go through a book a day easily.  But I don’t do it as a competition, I do it as a joy that I have time to read a pile of books I’ve been wanting to read.   And there is no way I could keep up that pace in non-vacation times, my life is too full of other things. 

Whereas, I sometimes suspect that there are readers who view reading in a competitive vein; who really want to be able to say that they’ve finished a lot of books.   Or, sometimes when I read book blogs I sense that there is a certain amount of peer pressure (which may be perceived and not real); a feeling that  one needs to keep up with everyone else.  Not that it is a competition but that a person can’t be taken seriously if she doesn’t get through a number of books on a regular basis.  

I question whether a reader really wins by pointing to the quantity of her reading rather than the quality.  

In any event, not much reading (speed or otherwise) going on these days in my life.  Too busy with other things.   But after the holidays …