Slow Reading April 2014

Not long after I learned how to read it seemed like the goal of reading became to get faster at it. Then a few years later, this speed-reading goal was reinforced by teachers and parents who pressured me to try speed reading and taking speed reading classes. There are so many stats about different presidents and highly successful people that took pride in their ability to read very, very fast.

Somehow in the last twenty years I’ve never become a fast reader. While I am capable of skimming and reading quickly when I actually want to and try, I’ve realized that I always naturally gravitate toward reading slowly. Very slowly.

Today I woke up and decided to sit down and read a book. I’m halfway through the book now and really enjoying it, but I’ve noticed that even while I’m enjoying the book a lot, I’m reading it very slowly. When I try to read quickly, I miss a lot of connections between what I’m reading and how it applies to me in the real world. I read slowly, I take ideas in slowly but I am not just reading; I am multitasking. I am thinking about how they affect my life and what I can actually do to improve myself based on the ideas. It’s not just about consuming information; it’s about learning and changing my perspective.

When I was in my third year of high school I was doing poorly in my English class because I wasn’t able to read quickly enough. I was expected to read 500 page books in a few days or a week, and I wasn’t able to do that. I suppose if I were able to focus and read quickly without taking the time to enjoy the book, I might have been able to, but what’s the point in reading a 500 page story if you can’t take the time to enjoy it?

I wound up in a meeting with the school counselor (aka psychologist) half expecting to come out with some diagnosis or prescription for ADD medications. Instead she told me a story. When she was in school, she actually had a very similar problem and she ended up getting reffered to a neurology study comparing slow readers with fast readers. When she went to the neurologist they used an fMRI to scan her brain while she read. While specific parts of most people’s brains associated with reading light up, for her, her entire brain lit up.

I’m no neurologist and I can’t know how my brain works from a neurological level, but I do believe that we need to reevaluate how we look at reading. Speed reading is probably an important skill, but it is not the only type of reading and I think there are benefits to reading slowly too.