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Our Reading Lives

Confessions of a Speed-Reader

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Deepali Agarwal

Staff Writer

Deepali Agarwal has a Master’s in literary linguistics, which means that every person she’s ever known has, at some point, asked her to ‘edit a thing’ for them-- ‘just see if it reads okay?’ She doesn’t mind, because she believes that the world can be fixed one oxford comma at a time. Deepali lives in Delhi, the capital of India, where cows are sacred, but authors and poets exist and write brilliant things. She works as an editor with OUP India’s School ELT division, where she moves apostrophes, looks up pictures of cats, and talks about children’s books for eight hours. The rest of her day is spent reading, thinking about Parks and Recreation, and wondering if there exist jobs for English majors that pay more than peanuts. Twitter: @DeepaliAgarwal_

I will start off by saying that I mostly love the fact that I zip through books and basically inhale them. It helped me cram ALL the wonderful books in my head when I was growing up, it helped me toil through numerous volumes for my undergrad, and at my present job as an ELT editor, it helps me scan through stories when I have to read a thousand selections to pick out an appropriate twelve. I just scan for words like ‘cigarette’ and ‘rum’. (jk, jk.)

Chris Traeger Parks and Rec Reading

“One time I read all of Siddhartha at a traffic stop.”

However, it has its cons. For books which I am highly anticipating, I speed-read at exceptionally obnoxious rates. For instance, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows first came out, if someone had asked me after that first read as to what happened in the book, all I could’ve mustered would be “Destroyed 7 horcruxes. Voldemort finally dead. There were things called hallows? Also, a weird dream sequence kinda thing at the end there.” I read it without attention to any detail: I just had to know whether Harry was alive. (This is also the reason why I quite often flip to the last page of a book and read it, or Wiki a movie’s plot before I commit to it.)

When I was a child, and my parents bought me books every week (god bless them), the only books I was forbidden to buy were Archie comics, because let’s be real, they weren’t worth the fifteen minutes of entertainment.

I think a lot of that has carried over to adulthood, where I flip through the pages at bookstores, looking at the font and analyzing if the price is worth the reading time, and look at Amazon’s ‘number of pages’ section before clicking ‘add to cart’.

Pretty books consisting of just quotes and/or doodles?
Na-ah. Not for me.
I also think my speed-reading is partly to blame for my long-standing belief that comic books just weren’t worth any money and weren’t really ‘real books’. I know, I know!


I have been trying very hard to rectify that situation for the past few years, and I have tons of great art and kickass plot to catch up on in that area.

Here are some weird things that I have noticed help me slow down:

  1. A really amazing book with absolutely no suspense
    If there is even the slightest expectancy of suspense in a book, I’m done. There’s really nothing to stop me from whizzing through, saying aha! at the end, and proceed to regret missing out on the intricate details. But give me an interesting-yet-stable book, maybe a bit of magic realism (Marquez is like walking in a swimming pool) or such, and I might actually enjoy those things called sentences. Recent examples I have enjoyed have been Fates and Furies, Leave Me, and The Lowland.
  • A good crime/mystery novel
    Crime novels have plenty of suspense, yes, but you also have to read them carefully so that you don’t miss out on any reader clues. Agatha Christies, Satyajit Ray’s Feluda, and my new favourite – Tana French – all good picks to help you take notice of the words.
  • Increasing the font on your Kindle
    My brain does this thing where it only gives a fixed amount of time to one page. It could be a picture book with exactly twenty words per page, or a classic crammed with a tiny font, I will still give it around 15-20 seconds to register. So I now regularly trick my brain by choosing a large font on my Kindle–it gives my brain the perception that we’re reading fast, without me losing out on the language.
  • Not reading around giant, teetering piles of books
    This one is more about my minuscule attention span and less about my reading speed, but I tend to read faster when I have, in my view, other fantastic books waiting to be read. As difficult as it is to find a space in the house where other books aren’t glaring at you, I think it helps.

    Dear fellow speed-reader, please, for the love of elegant sentence construction and painstaking details in books, let me know what slows you down.