Instead, they say, you should absorb text visually. Doing so can dramatically increase reading speed, they say. Some people say they can process thousands of words per minute if they work visually and not textually. They claim maximizing the speed of your reading maximizes the return on your investment of time and attention.

The people giving this advice are educated and accomplished – and the advice is freaking stupid. If you’re reading for pleasure, don’t be moving any faster than the voice in your head lets you. Otherwise, you’d miss the most enjoyable parts of reading. At the start of Annie Proulx’s most extraordinary novel,The Shipping News, she describes her protagonist, Quoyle:

Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.

You could process that visually and conclude that the person being identified is probably male, definitely a college graduate and that he has miscellaneous quirks. (Next page, please.) And you’d miss the point of a paragraph that conveys so much meaning with very few words. You’d miss the poetry of the words and you’d miss key information about the character of the protagonist. The man’s character is the central thread that ties the book together. If you don’t observe that early, you’d miss the point of a luminous piece of modern literature.

If you take your time over those sentences, you can hear Quoyle, sitting alone with his digestive noises in the back row during algebra 401. You can imagine the girls determined to avoid a man so bloated. You can feel the weight brought on by the absence of friends in a life – by the absence of intimacy. You picture a man trying to gain self-knowledge and perspective while looking at the world through his lonely peephole. You miss the mood of the book and you don’t notice the poetic rhythm of phrases like ‘ham knuckle, buttered spuds.’

A large review of academic research says that silencing or suppressing the inner voice, also called subvocalization, will move you along faster but that comprehension will suffer. The research says that the point of reading is comprehending language, an activity that engages parts of the brain not involved when comprehending pictures or sound or smells. Remember when your mom told you not to eat so fast, to slow down and enjoy your food? Yeah, well it’s the same thing with reading.


Written by:   Spencer Stephens

Categories:   Blog

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