How fast can you read?

I feel like I’m a “slow” reader, which is annoying enough when you simply “do the math” and figure out how many more books you could read if you, say, increased your reading speed by twenty percent? 50 books in a year (roughly the pace I’m on this year) becomes 60, and – depending on what those extra ten books are – think of what I could be missing!

Of course, reading speed depends a lot on what you’re reading. Non-fiction is slower than fiction, “classic” fiction or literature is slower than modern fiction, etc. But, even on the “easier” reads, I still feel like I’m slow: e.g., I just finished the Hunger Games trilogy, which is quite a page turner and yet I probably averaged only 45 pages an hour. Very disappointing. Maybe it’s poor concentration.

One of my friends in my book club reads a prodigious amount, and I find this very annoying 🙂 Earlier this year, after I had discovered “The girl with the Dragon Tattoo…” books and was on the final one, I told her about them, and she ended up reading all three books before I even finished the one I was on. Then, just this past week, I told her about the Hunger Games series ( where I was on book three of the trilogy) and just between Thursday night and Sunday afternoon she had almost completed them all as well. It was only by my eschewing watching NFL in the late afternoon that I was able to prevent a repeat of “The Girl With…Reading Incident” 🙂

I think it was Woody Allen that said, “I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.” Of course, comedy is his profession, but that’s kind of how I’d imagine speed readers to comprehend their books.

All kidding aside, though, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to read a little faster without losing any comprehension in the deal? That’s kind of a Holy Grail for me. Has anyone out there successfully increased their reading speed? Has anyone tried any of those “gimmick” (you can tell I’m a skeptic) books or courses that allegedly increase your speed? I imagine just reading more and more might make one a little bit faster, but I’m not sure that I’ve noted that on a personal level, and this has been one of my most active reading years. So… How fast do YOU read? Go ahead, make me feel worse. 🙂

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6 Comments

  1. Stacey S said,

    October 11, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I have been known to read entire books (lately the larger size paperback by Karen Kingsbury) on a Sunday. There was a reecent 3 day weekend that I read 3 books and started a 4th. But I would say on average I could read 2 books a week if I’m really into the books and/or series. I think I’m a pretty fast reader but haven’t really done anything to increase my speed.

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  2. Alex said,

    October 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I’m also not a very speedy reader, I’m more or less at 70/year, with the help of audiobooks. I never though that was a problem, but then I see what some people in the book blogosphere read and start day-dreaming about reading 200/year, how great would that be?

    I have been tempted by those fast-reading “gimmick” book, but I’m always afraid that then I won’t get as much pleasure out of reading as I usually do – and that I’m not willing to risk!

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  3. Ann Marie said,

    October 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Wow Jay! I feel so important now that I am the inspiration for one of your posts! As I think I told you, insomnia combined with having no life are the main reasons I finish books before you 🙂

    Seriously, though, I don’t know why I read as fast as I do. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read fast. I think one thing that helps is that when I am reading something I truly enjoy, I am totally absorbed in the book and (unintentionally) block out everything around me. I imagine that the look on my face is similar to the look on the kids faces when they are playing mindless video games. I am fortunate that I am able to comprehend and retain what I read despite the speed. Another major difference for me when reading is that I generally don’t annotate when I read for pleasure. When reading for work, where I do need to annotate and take notes, my speed drops drastically.

    I have known people over the years that worked to speed up their reading but their comprehension drops as the speed increases. Plus, I don’t see how reading could be as enjoyable when the object is to finish or to read more books than someone else rather than to enjoy to book. (Hmm, reminds me of something Phaedrus said!) Would you really be as happy if you read more books but didn’t give each book the amount of time it deserves? Seems like you would be choosing quantity over quality.

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  4. stentorpub said,

    October 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    @Ann Marie: I agree that a decrease in comprehension (or “quality of reading”) is unacceptable and not a trade-off I would like. I do think concentration (or being “absorbed” as you describe) is a key. My one “genius” roommate in college seemed to have this gift for concentration (probably NOTcoincidentally, he’s the one who talked me into taking that philosophy class I’ve posted about before). I can remember several times we’d be in our room studying, waiting for the ‘dinner is served’ announcement on the intercom, and he would be in his chair at his desk, with his feet propped on the desk, reading, and over time he would continuously slump further and further down in his chair until his torso was virtually parallel to the flor with his feet still on the desk and his knees bent – folding him into a kind of “human letter z”. When the dinner bell rang, sometimes he didn’t know it so I would rouse him from his concentration. “Rick?” I’d say. Then again, “Rick!” and he would ‘snap out of it’ and we’d go downstairs to dinner. One time on the way downstairs I asked him, “Don’t you find that position uncomfortable?” I don’t remember exactly how he responded – something like “I don’t know” or “I guess'” but whatever the response it was clear he had never really given it any thought. I wish I could have concentrated like that.

    @Alex: I know! I am often frustrated by some of our fellow book bloggers’s lists of books read. I rationalize that they must be retired or stay at home moms or dads in order to be able to read that much. That sometimes makes me feel better. I’m more curious too, about how fast people read A Book, not just how many they read in a year. More of a pages per hour estimate…

    @Stacey: you are probably more in Ann Marie’s class as far as reading “prodigiousness” goes. Do you find that you read a lot of pages per hour, or do you think you just spend more time reading than others?

    -Jay

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  5. Ann Marie said,

    October 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Is your old roommate related to me? My parents would always get angry with me when I “ignored” them because I was absorbed in a book. 🙂

    I think that most people with a long list of books read probably do not have as diverse a collection of “hobbies” as you do. That accounts for the large amount of time they have available to read. A great deal of my reading time is during meals or when I can’t sleep at night. (For example, I was up until 1:30 on Thursday and 2:30 on Saturday) Of course, if you were married to Tim you would probably escape into books more often also!

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  6. Ann Marie said,

    October 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

    In posting a response to one of the other comments, I remembered something that also helps me read faster. As you know, I read a lot of serial killer, thriller books. They often (in my opinion) ruin these books by adding a romance subplot to them which invariably includes sex scenes. I often skip the four or five pages of passion to get back to the “real” story. I guess that artificially inflates my reading speed 🙂

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