My Problem with Speed-Reading

A while ago I read (or, more accurately, skimmed) an article about an app that could train you to read a novel in 90 minutes. On the one hand I thought, “Wow, that’s impressive.” (I’m sure it’s not, to some people.) On the other hand, it made me feel … disappointed is the best word I can come up with. Disappointed that this is how people view reading, as something that should be done as quickly as possible, or else it’s a waste of time.

I understand the appeal of reading a book that quickly, as there are so many books out there I want to read, and I know there will be more, that it would be beneficial in that sense to be able to get through a book in 90 minutes. I could greatly increase my number of total books read, broaden my reading experience, etc.

But both as a reader and as a writer, this emphasis on speed-reading bothers me.

There have been times, particularly in college, when reading a little faster was necessary. I’m not arguing that you should never read quickly just to finish a book, if it’s required for your school or work to do so. But other than that, if you’re reading for pleasure, why would you be in such a hurry to be finished? If I choose to read a book, not for any assignment but because I think I will find it interesting or enjoyable, I like to spend time with it. A book is a great place to be, better, sometimes, than the real world. Particularly in very engaging books, I don’t want to rush through that world. But if I start speed-reading, then slower reading would be hard to go back to.

Then, of course, I consider speed-reading from the point of view of a writer–more specifically, a writer who intends to publish novels. Any serious writer will spend a lot of time and effort creating the content you’re reading, wanting to craft something readers will find worth their time. If I spend a year on a book (drafting, revising, etc.), I don’t want someone to pick it up only to toss it aside in an hour or two. Although real writers write for themselves, they also write for readers, and the thought that something created with care is worth only the smallest fraction of someone’s time is discouraging. There would likely be many writers who understandably reason that they should not put so much effort into their work if the people enjoying the final product are not going to appreciate it properly.

I am against this notion that a “solution” is needed to read novels faster. Internet articles? Yes, read them as fast as you can, particularly the ones that seem like they were written in ten minutes. Or even this one, which should certainly not take you longer than that to read… you’ll get the idea. But a story that someone has taken the care to craft so that they can be proud of it? Spend a little time with it. Don’t be so scared of books.