The Fast and the Furious…Reader

“Read Harry Potter In 90 Minutes!” the headline reads, and I perk up because it’s a helluva claim. Then I begin thinking about it, and my first thought is, “which Harry Potter book exactly?” because I’m a bit pedantic by default. Cause, I mean, if you read Sorcerer’s Stone in 90 minutes that’s terrific, but read The Goblet of Fire in 90 minutes and you’re a damn X-Man now.

"I have to read at 55 miles per hour, or this book will EXPLODE"

“I have to read at 55 miles per hour, or this book will EXPLODE”

Anyway, I wind up going through all the articles and the information about this company called Spritz and their new method for teaching speed reading. It’s an interesting idea, demonstrated here. Words flashing at high speed take you blazingly fast through sentences while highlights and underlines in the word itself focus you on key points of a word, accelerating your comprehension as you speed through. At least, that’s the theory.

It holds up okay in the samples, which you can subject your eyeballs to when you follow that link, and it’s kinda cool. When it becomes more of an app, I’m excited to play with it.

But I dunno if that’s any kind of endorsement, because I am such a sucker for speed reading.

*

I am always thinking about speed and quantity when it comes to my reading. I couldn’t tell you why, it’s just something that I wind up fidgeting with in my spare moments and thinking about. I don’t really worry about it, to be fair (I read a lot, and a lot more than average, although I’m dwarfed by some of Book Riot’s excellent people), but still. I love the idea of reading a staggering number of books a year, and reading each book very very fast.

What I do about it is usually pretty minor: I’ll keep changing my reading lamp lightbulb to make sure it’s the brightest and clearest one possible. I wear reading glasses solely because I was hoping it would make me read faster, and not because I have to have them on or anything. I keep a reading journal and chart my progress and it makes me twitchy when it takes me too long to read a book. (There are exceptions, of course. It took ages to read a Charles Dickens biography that was so thick, you could prop a car up on it and get on with maintenance. I didn’t mind that that one took ages.)

So weird speed reading programs are an offshoot of this lazy obsession of mine, I guess…and boy are there a lot of weird speed reading programs and methods out there. Most of them kind of work a little bit, I guess…but the results always taper off, for me, later on because I read for content first, not speed, and so eventually I settle back down to just reading the books at my regular (quite fast) pace.

Some people get really upset about the idea of speed reading. The most common complaint is “do you need to race through a novel? Can you really get anything out of the book is the purpose of it is to just blast through as fast as possible and that’s it? Can you savor a beautiful sentence or follow the rhythms and great moments of a story when you’re blasting through it?”

As it happens, I agree entirely. It seems to me it’d be like watching films, but on double speed. Sure, you’d get through more films than me, but so what? Whenever I start messing with speed reading methods, my focus is always nonfiction. I have an idea it would be really fun to be able to race through a lot of nonfiction books on a particular topic, particularly if I could absorb the content more or less as I would when reading at my normal pace. That would be so cool! Not to mention it would help me deal with the fist-clenching frustration I feel in bookstores and libraries when I am suddenly struck by how many books there are which I haven’t read, and how many unread books there will still be when I die, dammit. It’s infuriating.

*

So is Spritz’s new speed reading method gonna do the trick? Well, I don’t know. I can see a lot of problems with speed reading. Fatigue is the major one. When you’re reading at a blazing pace, how do you know when your mind has become worn out and stopped processing the information? If you’re reading before bed and you get drowsy, do you wind up rushing through thirty pages before noticing that you’re nodding off? One thing that regularly happens to me when I begin messing with speed reading is that I begin taking in the words and sentences and comprehending them very very quickly…but they leave just as quickly. In effect, my mind becomes fixating on word comprehension more than idea comprehension, and that doesn’t do me much good at all.

"I have to read at 55 miles per hour or this book will EXPLODE (but I'm on a boat this time)!"

“I have to read at 55 miles per hour or this book will EXPLODE (but I’m on a boat this time)!”

Another problem – potentially – is being able to change gears. If I learn to speed read nonfiction, can I slow down and relax when it comes to reading fiction? And alternatively, if I am relaxing when reading fiction, am I tense when racing through nonfiction? Do I really want that in favor of speed? (On the other hand, I could live with a bit of tension, if it can be turned on and off, when I want to deliberately take in a lot of data.)

And of course, the big problem is, does it work? I suspect if it does, it’s something you have to work at pretty regularly – just like you can become good at running fast distances by regularly running sprints – and people might not do that. If you don’t work at it regularly, I assume your speed would drop back down. That’s assuming the method Spritz is suggesting in the first place actually works. (And it might well. It sounds okay in theory). Plenty speed-reading methods are as utterly bogus as the speed-learning methods for almost every other life skill.

I’ll happily play with it when I’m able, and I’ll keep changing lightbulbs and adjusting my glasses and so forth in the meanwhile, because I love trying to speed up my reading. Who knows, maybe you’re reading this in the future and their method has revolutionized reading and you’ve read this entire article in 60 seconds.

Now you’ll just have to decide if you want to.

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