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The case for slow reading


A promise of being able to speed read over 1,000 words a minute while retaining full comprehension swings around every so often. But let's take our time.

721 words 3 minute read

When we consider the massive amount of potential reading material out there, it's no surprise speed reading gets a lot of traction. But as an article by Anne-Laure Le Cunff over at Ness Labs explains:

"It's completely bogus."

In The speed reading fallacy: the case for slow reading, Anne-Laure describes how the first speed reading programme, Reading Dynamics, was launched in 1959 and quickly grew to 150 businesses across the US, Canada, and beyond. It led to the belief that it improved the consumption of knowledge and allowed everyone to keep up with the vast amount of information we are faced with every day. But reading speed isn't everything, there are drawbacks.

Looking at the science of it, it seems that comprehension will always suffer if we try and push ourselves into reading in a way that doesn't come naturally.

"A study conducted by scientists from the University of California, MIT and Washington University found that there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy."

I don't doubt that there is plenty of variety in how different people read, and how quickly, but the push to read faster could cause us to lose comprehension, and for us avid readers, appreciation for what we're reading. With over 2 million books published each year we have plenty of material to keep us going. And that's just recorded ISBNs, so at least double that for all the small/self-published books. But reading isn't (or shouldn't be) a race.

Clare, from Years of Reading Selfishly, recently wrote:

"When you are a Book Blogger, it is so easy to get caught up in the Fear Of Missing Out, the need to be seen with the latest book, making sure books are photographed, Instagrammed, Tweeted about, added on your IG stories, making sure you tag and thank everyone, replying to any comments, then retweeting and doing it all over again, that you are in danger of losing the most important thing.

The simple pleasure of just picking up a book and reading it."

Pressure on book bloggers to read and review a book, avid readers responding to hype by pushing themselves to finish a book, and the general ickyness of peer pressure can feel overwhelming. And can cost more than just time, as CW breaks down for us over at The Quiet Pond:

Did book bloggers feel pressure to spend money on books or invest in their platforms?

Of the 21 book bloggers that discussed pressures to purchase books or invest in their platforms, 18 book bloggers (85%) answered ‘yes’, 2 book bloggers (10%) answered ‘no’, and 1 book blogger (5%) answered ‘yes, but not anymore’.

Why do we read?

For me, it's to enjoy a good story or learn something new. And I can't do that if I'm rushing through a book.

"Instead of trying to optimise for speed, we should optimise for comprehension and retention. It’s better to read fewer books which will improve your thinking than to collect a long list of titles you can claim to have read without any deep thinking to show for it."

Instead of reading faster, let's read better.

Reading uninterrupted for at least 30 minutes can help reduce anxiety. Taking the time to enjoy what you read can mean spending more time reading rather than squeezing in a speed reading session. And giving yourself the time to absorb what you're reading can stimulate the brain to make connections and help you remember what you've read.

So here's to slow reading, as Wikipedia puts it, the:

"...intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure."

(Emphasis most definitely my own.)

Now read all this again, slowly.

Happy (Slow) Reading,


(Reading on Water photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

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