The Great Speed Reading Lie

Read as fast as you can comprehend the information you desire to walk away with.

While in college, I spent every Saturday (unless I was traveling) in a local bookstore reading from opening to closing. I’d sometimes make it through three to four entire books in that 12-hour span.

Then I grew greedy.

I wanted to read more books in the same amount of time.

Which explains how I ended up meeting with the department head for the communications department who was teaching a class on speed reading.

“How many words a minute to you read now?” she asked.

Somewhere in the range or 700–1,200, I said. (I’d taken several speed-reading tests.)

“Then why are you taking a speed reading course?” she asked, seemingly non-plussed.

I explained that I’d heard about folks who could read more than 2,000 words in a minute. I was committed to do the same.

Heck, I’d even picked up a book on speed reading at a used book sale.

The next words that came out of her mouth were a dash of cold water on my hopes of reading myriad books each year.

“You can read just as fast,” she said. “But people who read that fast aren’t comprehending much in the way of information. So, if, as you say, your goal is to learn about that which you’re reading, you’re already ahead of 99% of the population. Reading—and comprehending—700 to 1,000 words a minute is extraordinary.”

Today, we know the truth of her words, but on that Friday afternoon, I walked out of her office frustrated and whiny.

Speed reading is essentially just a form of skimming.

I wanted to read more and read faster.

Turns out, I had the wrong goal all along.

I love reading not simply for the sake of reading. I love it because of what it allows me to learn, visualize and conceptualize.

The desire to read more and faster, while admirable, wasn’t going to help me accomplish those goals.

In-depth reading takes time.

But by making less time spent reading the priority, I was devaluing a primary learning tool and my own enjoyment, both of which were too important to displace.

Currently I read at least one book per week.

Yes, I’d like to read more, but at that pace I’m able to read blogs and newspapers articles, and, most important, have the time to write about that which I’m reading/have read.

In the end, what’s most important is being able to learn, distill and share what I read.

What about you? Are you happy with the number of words you read each day and/or week?

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