Monday, March 7, 2011

The Speed Of Your Read

Are you a fast or a slow reader?

I've always been slow, and I often wonder if those speed readers around me are having the same reading experience that I am. I know, for example, that not everyone "hears" a voice reading along with them the way I do. Some people read with their eyes and only have to "see" the word. (I've done this on occasion, but it's difficult. I tend not to trust what I've read until I internalize it.) I've also heard that some people can read multiple areas of a page at once.

Ignoring accuracy (because that's a whole other topic), do you think the different ways people read result in dramatic differences in their reading experience?

If you're a writer, do you think what you write is more successful for one type of reader versus another?

Don't forget our Notes From Underground Anthology is available. Check it out! You can read it as fast or as slow as you like.


  1. I'm definitely considered a fast reader. It's not something I have any control over--I learned to read VERY young and was always in the advanced reading classes in school. I've never had any comprehension issues, and I honestly can't slow myself down even if I want to. And yes, I basically look at a paragraph as a whole, even as I process the sentences, in order, individually.

    Unfortunately, I married a very slow reader who's extremely intimidated by my speed and therefore rarely reads. So believe me when I say it's not on purpose!

    As long as a reader gets their enjoyment, I don't think reading speed is something to worry about.

  2. It depends on what I'm reading. I just finished SUTTREE by Cormac McCarthy, and that's a slower read, partly to savor and enjoy the prose and at times to figure out what the hell he just said.

    I just started FALL OF GIANTS by Ken Follett and that's a quicker read, faster moving story and the prose is much easier to digest.

  3. I'm with Rick. If I'm reading for relaxation I'll pick a rollicking romance that I can finish in an hour. A more literary book will demand that I read more lsowly so that I can pick up the nuances and absorb them. If I'm reading non-fiction it can take me a month.

    As a writer, I definitely need readers who are willing to read slow and deep.

    I'll be offering giveaways of the Notes from Underground anthology on my blog - I just need to catch up the backlog from when I was away and then I'll post the freebie info in the next week or two! I'm so impressed with the other authors. Incredibly high standard of writing and I'm proud to be associated with the anthology.
    Judy (South Africa)

  4. I'm a fairly slow reader because I read every. single. word. as it comes in the story. I like to savor how they are arranged, etc. That said, I do read lighter things faster than heavier reads probably because in those I read certain phrases, sentences, or paragraphs over and over.

  5. I think it depends on how you define ‘read’. I have ‘read’ a lot of books in my life but when I look through my shelves and cupboards I realise that I have retained nothing or, at best, next to nothing. My eyes have passed over the words, my fingers have turned the pages in numerical order and I’ve got the gist of what’s happening – what A has done to B while on the way to C with a dirty great big D – but I’m not sure that counts as reading. I’ve just read a book by Nabokov and I assure you I read it, word for word and many sentences two or three times. And I can tell you here and now that it would do me no harm whatsoever to go right back to the first page and read it again to start to fully appreciate the work that went into it.

    As for my own writing, it depends. Four of the novels should be fairly quick reads even though there’s a lot packed into them but they’ll all benefit from a second read. The third novel is involved, is riddled with literary references and written in a style that you can’t rush – lots of intricate, long sentences.

    Since I’ve started writing reviews I’ve got better at reading, knowing I’m going to have to explain the book and possibly to people who have read it already. That makes me take reading a lot more seriously. I’ve never been one for reading for fun though. I invariably read with a purpose.

  6. I'm like you, Davin. I hear a voice in my head as I read, so I can't skim or everything gets completely jumbled and lost. I do seem to read at a steady pace, though, and I can get through a book really fast if I'm not interrupted.

    I know I've talked with readers who have read my work really fast, and they seem to have skipped things. That's frustrating to me because it's like they didn't care enough to read slowly and take it all in. I think it can maybe make a difference, but it most likely depends on a lot of factors I can't even begin to fathom.

  7. Summer, it's interesting to me that you can read the paragraph as a whole and also process the sentences in order. It makes sense, but I just never thought of it that way. Thanks for explaining.

    Rick, would you say that two reading experiences were "equal"? Is there less dimension to the Follett book?

    Judy, Thanks for your nice works about Notes and keep us posted on the giveaway so we can add a link. Thanks for talking about your own writing and what you think of your readers' experience with it.

    Lois, that makes sense. I'm reading a more contemporary book right now, The Book Thief, and I'm finding that I'm zipping through it rather quickly. I guess part of me is trying to figure out why.

  8. I tend to read as fast as the writer wrote. :) If it's fast paced I read fast, if it's slow paced I read slow. I think I write that way too. When there's lots of action I write faster then when people are just talking or I'm describing something. :)

  9. Jim, Thanks for all of your thoughts. I know what you mean about going through the actions but really not retaining anything. I used to do that a lot, especially in school when I had to read books I didn't enjoy. On the rare occasions when I have written book reviews, I've also paid a different kind of attention to my reading. I think that has been a good thing for me.

    Michelle, I wonder if that need to "hear" the word is more associated with intuitive learners. I've always had to feel like I know something before I can trust myself. Your readers' experience is interesting. I can see why that would be frustrating! I know I've talked to readers about other books where they'll say "I should read this again because I know I've missed stuff." They don't always go back to it, and I wish they would!

  10. Autumn2May, that's an interesting idea! My writing usually proceeds at a steady pace when I have the words. I wonder if that means people like you will read it at a steady pace or find their own ebbs and flows.

  11. "I wonder if that need to "hear" the word is more associated with intuitive learners."

    That might be true. I have to hear the words in my head. I'm also a slow reader, and it feels like I read more slowly as time passes. Part of that is age and my eyes tiring more quickly than when I was a youngster like you kids.

  12. I think like Rick it depends on the book. For literary fiction(what I'm reading now) is very very slow. Her words are sticking to my brain like oatmeal. And I can only read so many at a time. The visuals in my brain are overloading with her prose.

    But when I read something light, I tend to skip over words or complete sentences altogether. I get the gist and don't need the words so much, as I want to follow the story.

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  14. I am a fast reader but I don't skim. (Unless I don't like the book but can't stop because then I would feel guilty.) The type of book I'm reading does make a difference in my reading speed but it's still faster than most people. I do hear the people as I read, I also often see them and what is happening like a video in my head.

    I've never thought about whether my writing would be more successful for a certain type of reader. Right now I'm just trying to be read at all. :)

  15. Fast or slow all has to do with the objective of my reading. For pleasure--slow! and if I can't hear the voices in my head, I know I'm reading too fast!

  16. On average, I read 100 books a year, about half fiction and half nonfiction. Most definitely I read the nonfiction more slowly, because it is generally denser and covers unfamiliar territory.

    I like most of my fiction to be fast-paced with lots of dialogue, as it makes a nice change from the nonfiction. It takes an exceptional author to get me to read what perhaps could be called "dense" fiction -- Patrick O'Brian comes to mind.

    My writing tends to be briskly paced with lots of dialogue.

    I always have more than one book going at a time (often 3 or 4) - I usually read fiction on the bus commute, and nonfiction at home. I often have more than one writing project going at once, too.

    Interesting question, Domey!

    --Alex MacKenzie

  17. I think I was probably a faster reader before I started writing. Back then, I'd skim through passages that were boring or whatnot, but now I find myself reading more slowly because I'm afraid I'll miss something the author put there for a specific that I know how other writers write.

    My hubby reads super fast and I often wonder how the heck he can possibly grasp everything, but he seems to anyway.

    Bottom line: now that I'm a writer, I think I'm destined to read slow for the rest of my life. ;-)

  18. I have to say it depends on what I'm reading. Newspapers I generally scan quickly, but I tend to take my time with novels especially when they are literary.

    Congrats on the anthology.

  19. Scott, I don't notice myself getting slower, but maybe that's also a bad sign. :)

    Anne, I get really distressed if I skip a word. I often have to go back and reread things, even if I know exactly what they say, just to keep the voice in my brain from getting all caught up.

    S.P. Bowers, that's interesting that you're fast but you also hear the voices!

    jbchicoine, that's interesting that the stuff you love goes slower. I think I'm the total opposite.

    Mizmak, very interesting. I'm really trying to read more this year, because I come nowhere near reading 100 books a year and it would go me good to. I might be wrong, but I think the more I read the faster I get.

    Ashley, I know how that goes! I reread things much more often now as I try to unravel how people constructed their stories.

    Myne, thanks! Yes, I'm faster at newspapers too. A lot of news stories are repetitive anyway, so it doesn't hurt to skim.

  20. Domey: I'm obsessive about tracking books...I keep a database of the books I own and the books I've read, and the year I read them. Ever since I began tracking the books I read, the annual total has steadily increased. It helps that I'm addicted to keeping lists and I love being able to add to them. Which is silly, really, but that's never stopped me from doing anything!


  21. I am a really fast reader. Like super fast. I can read two books a week, but that could also be because I don't have a job...

    I never really thought about the seeing versus hearing thing. I usually have the voice reading to me thing going on, most often with an English accent. Don't ask me why... And I'm American. Is that weird?

    As a writer, I think the type of reading depends on the voice of the work. My current WIP is humorous and my narrator uses a big vocabulary and elaborate language that I think would be best for a slow reader who hears the words rather than sees them.

  22. I read everything slowly. If it's for pleasure, I want to savor it, stopping frequently to replay a turn of phrase that caught my eye (inner ear) or to imagine the scene just described to me. If I'm reading to learn, I want to make sure I'm getting everything and getting it clearly. There are no books I whip through in an hour or even a day. I can't imagine wanting to read anything where I could do that. I have my own mindless relaxations, I suppose, but reading simply isn't one of them.

    I'm sure it's different for everyone. I knew someone who read incredibly fast. She could keep it in her head for the duration of the book, but could remember virtually nothing of the story several days later.

    I don't think any of this changes how you write. Yes, I expect a reader to read every word I wrote - I wouldn't have put the word in there if it didn't add to the story - but good writing should be fairly easy reading. A professional writer knows how to express him- or herself clearly, in an orderly and comprehensible fashion.

  23. I'm an extremely fast reader. I pretty much do read an entire paragraph at once.

    I actually find this affects the experience of reading because I don't pause and allow myself time to think about the book or really consciously wonder about what will happen next. I've always hated that I never do this, but when I'm really into a book, I can't stop and think about it.

  24. Davin- It's like comparing apples and oranges. You eat them both, but you're after different things when you take a bite. For the apple you're looking forward to the crisp crunch, and the orange offers a juicy splash. But after you eat either, your hunger has abated for a while.

  25. I'm like Rick, it really depends on what I'm reading. Most memoirs, for example, I can read very quickly. However, texts such as Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen take me longer as they are very dense and rich in detail.

    I don't think that any particular style of reading has any advantage over the other. Clearly all people of all styles like to read (or they wouldn't). One might assume that they like to read for the same reasons.

    However, experience of reading, like that of anything, is highly individualistic. It depends on the person (and what they are reading).

    The same is said for writing. While there is undoubtedly a correlation between what one reads and what one writes (I read adult Fantasy mostly, so that is what I tend to write), the method of reading and the style (or voice) of writing probably aren't related.

  26. I hear the words in my head, too. I'm a little faster than some because I hear fairly quickly, but it definitely slows the process down.

    Sometimes my reading is also slowed down because I will often pause to sit back and think about what I've been reading.

    I really do that with mass market pop lit as much as with more seriously-intended literature. Everything is geared so heavily toward interactivity for me that I can't just absorb; I have to engage and become embroiled with.

  27. Oh, and as for my writing -- I think most of what I write can work at both paces, but the folks who read it particularly fist usually come with a completely different idea than the folks who read it more slowly.

    I'm actively trying to not think one of those ways is more correct than the other.


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