I’ve always been a slow reader. My mother, who took a speed reading course in college, always used to encourage me to take one of these courses, and of course I would protest, claiming that I liked to immerse myself in the language, take it slow, pay careful attention, etc. etc.
That’s all true, certainly, but I wonder if I wasn’t too hasty in my dismissal of a variety of techniques which, if artfully applied, might double or triple the number of books I’d be able to read. Because that would be a good thing, right? Some speed reading techniques I learned to apply pretty naturally, such as the elimination of subvocalization. Others, like the necessarily anti-musical chunking, I’ve shied away from.
Still, to this day I have the experience, from time to time, of the language of whatever I’m reading seeming to push my ahead faster than my comprehension of the work will allow. So if the very rhythm of the text seems to insist on it, shouldn’t I take it upon myself to at least become equipped with the tools necessary to comply? I guess a fear would be that, once you “turn it on,” it would be very difficult to stop.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes a man named Howard Berg as the fastest reader on earth. He can reportedly read an apocalyptic 25,000 words per minute. At this rate, he’d be able to work his way through Shakespeare in just over half an hour. But is he appreciating it? I mean, even if for argument’s sake we give him the heart of a poet and the mind of a philosopher… What the is really absorbing? And if we got a percentage, say 30% loss of comprehension–even 50%–would his ability to read everything ever written make up for that loss?
I’m tempted to dismiss it all as acrobatics, but aside from such extreme cases, a reasonable argument could be made that it behooves lovers of language to at least try to pick up the speed a bit. Have you ever taken a speed reading course, or do you employ speed reading practices? Do you know any devout speed readers? Or are you philosophically opposed to such psychological engineering?