Like a Tortoise With a Lame Foot

Jul 2, 2012

Confession: I am not a speed reader. I am not a fast reader. In fact, by all counts and measures, I think you'd define me as a "slow reader."

When a friend says, "Oh, this was such a fast read. I blazed through it in less than a day," I think, Okay, so probably more like four or five days for me. And when someone else says, "I was only going to read two or three chapters and then, oops, before I knew it, I'd finished the book!" I think, Has that ever happened to me? And when still another person says, "I'm just going to read the first couple hundred pages tonight," I think, I'm just going to read the first 30 pages tonight. 

So I'm sure you're dying to know: How slow am I really? I conducted a couple of informal tests, and the answer is S-L-O-W. I was reading at about 165 words per minute. As a reference point, average reading speed for most adults is about 200 words per minute, which is about the speed that most people read out loud.

(It now makes sense why I can get through a book faster if I listen to the audio instead of read it myself! Also, I hope you appreciate the blow my ego took to admit that.)

Over the last three years or so, I've read an average of 50 books each year. That's about a book a week. Although not outstanding, it's a respectable number. But think, oh just think, how many more books I could read if I read just a little bit faster!

So the question is Why? Why am I so slow?
I have my suspicions, and most of them point to my obsessive compulsive nature. If I don't understand something, I re-read it. Sometimes it's just a sentence, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a whole page. The problem is, I often get in a vicious cycle where I read something, I don't understand it, so I re-read it, but my attention kind of zones out, so I don't understand it any better (because I wasn't paying attention), so I re-read it again...and again...and sometimes even again. This goes for textbooks all the way down to chick lit or children's novels.

(Actually, this is more the way I used to read. I've improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years and rarely re-read so obsessively, but I'm still fast-as-a-turtle slow.)
Anytime I try to read faster, I feel like my comprehension goes way down, and I end up re-reading it, so in the end, it probably takes me longer than if I'd just read it at my slow pace to begin with. And so I do.

The thing is, I would LOVE to read faster. I have so many books I want to read. It is agonizing to read at such a slow pace.

So, all you speed readers out there (especially those of you who didn't start out so speedy), what tips do you have for me? I honestly do not want to use some computer program...I'm tight on time as it is. If I'm going to improve, it needs to be with something that I already want to read. Make sense?

Stay tuned for a more specific goal, but for now I want your advice! (And maybe your sympathy, too.)


  1. Sorry, I don't have any advice. In fact, I would love some myself because I feel like I'm a really slow reader too for all the reasons you just listed. I re-read and re-read sentences and paragraphs if I feel like I didn't understand something, and when I try to read fast, I feel like I miss things.

  2. When you read do you say the words individually in your mind as if you are reading aloud mentally? Or do the words on the page translate themselves directly into images? I'm no expert on the science of reading mechanics, but when I read and the text is transformed into a kind of panorama in my head, I find I read faster than if I am reading the words individually in my head. Of course, the books that produce that panorama tend to be fictional, while those which don't tend to be more work-related. The same is true for listening to books on CDs. I can arrive at a destination with no memory at all of the journey because my head has been in the book I'm listening to. Dangerous, very dangerous.

  3. Have you ever read a book or magazine article along with someone else? It's like taking a timed test and seeing more and more people hand their test in. When I pay attention to how fast I read I'm pretty sure I read slower. Ahhh.

    I'm sorry, I really don't have any answers for you. I think my speed varies depending on the book and the level of distractions I allow in. Good Luck! (I can read your blog very quickly, by the way, most enjoyable;)


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