The Need to Speed Read

Welcome to the Dear Book Nerd podcast, a bi-weekly show that answers YOUR questions about life, love, and literature! This week, author Michael Northrop and I answer four listener-submitted questions and discuss the issue of reading speed, reading time, and all the guilt and anxiety that sometimes go along with this!

Michael Northrop is an author of books for kids and teens including Trapped, Rotten, Plunked, and the new TombQuest series (the first volume Book of the Dead hit the NYT bestseller list!) You can find him on Twitter @mdnorthrop. Thanks, Michael!

This episode is sponsored by Scribd and



Dear Book Nerd,

I am a slow reader. I wish I were able to read more books than I can because there are so many good books out there, both from the classic shelves to the modern publishing world. Since I started using Goodreads in 2011, I was able to track the average number of books that I finish in a year. I clock in at 50, which is more or less one book a week.

Some people whom I met at Goodreads finish books as if they were eating their daily meals. One of them is a naturally fast reader. Another one took speed reading lessons. And one more confessed that he skips some of the text because not every word is important.

My main concern is improving my reading speed. I work full time, I’m easily distracted by other cultural things, I read everything in a book (from the title down to the back cover blurbs), I tend to take pauses every after 10-20 pages, and I have a “silent narrator,” something which I think is an impediment to fast reading. Also, I’m interested to know what’s your opinion on speed reading, the average reading speed for book nerds, and any other stats that are limited to book nerds.

I’m looking forward to more of your episodes and thanks a lot.

From a fellow book nerd,


Dear Book Nerd,

I am a relatively slow reader. At least I think I am. From what other people say and from what Kindle seems to assume about the length of a book, it seems like most people read 1 page per minute. I average around 1.5-2 minutes per page. I suspect you will say it doesn’t matter, as long as I am getting joy from the process of reading, but it DOES matter, because there are so many books I want to read and there is so little time.

I suspect that some of this slowness is down to the fact that since I started writing seriously about five years ago, I want to notice every word. If I feel myself skimming or skipping I go back and re-read the sentence of the paragraph until I’ve either followed it or given up on following it. I am reading with such awareness, but I seem to have lost – if I ever had it – the ability to just let a story wash over me. In part, and I know you won’t approve of this – this may also be due to my obsession with my GoodReads stats – does a book count if I’ve not really taken in every page?

Do you have any advice for me on learning to read faster? Or just on chilling out – I know I should do it (people have been telling this all my life), but how?


Slightly Anxious Bookworm

Dear Book Nerd,

I’m so glad you are doing a podcast! I love listening to it on my way to work – at the library. In your first episode you talked about the tragic reality that we will never have enough time to read all we want. Do you actively try to increase your reading speed? Do you know of any programs that the readers/listeners could access that could improve reading speed? What tips can you give for reading faster while maintaining comprehension and enjoyment? I hope you can pass on some advice here so we can all “read harder” as Book Riot encourages us to do.


Dear Book Nerd,

I took up the literary gauntlet that is War and Peace, and I thought it would be good to figure out my reading speed, to get an idea of how long it would take. After taking several tests, I found that I read 215-230 wpm. To be honest, it is a blow to my confidence as a reader. I am a dual major in creative writing and English literature, and I wonder if I will be hindered academically by reading below the regular speed. I can take heart that this explains why it takes me so long to finish a book, but do I really have to fuss about it?

Slow and Steady Wins the Race



What Speed Do You Read? (Staples)

The Truth About Speed Reading (Lifehacker)

Top 5 Speed-Reading Apps for iPhone and iPad (iGeeksBlog)

Spillover by David Quam

The Secret History by Donna Tartt


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