Reading speed reading.
May 17, 2012 11:18 PM   Subscribe

How Fast Do You Read? Compare yourself with national averages. Compare yourself with Anne Jones, a Champion Speed Reader who consumed the last Harry Potter book in 47 minutes, about 1 page every 3.75 seconds.
posted by stbalbach (90 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I do read fairly quickly (610 wpm according to that test) but I find that if I push my reading speed up I can like some autodidact pretend to have understood the content and can answer questions about it effectively, but it doesn't stick in my memory and I get no enjoyment from it. So, useful for exam cramming, and occasionally useful for my job, but not a way to read for pleasure.
posted by wilful at 11:22 PM on May 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

I, too, am able to flip a book's pages every 3.75 seconds with a minor degree of comprehension. Just saying.
posted by LSK at 11:23 PM on May 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

I scored 984 wpm, but that's also (like wilful says) reading at a pace that doesn't bring much enjoyment with it. But it's a neat party trick, I guess.
posted by scody at 11:25 PM on May 17, 2012

I can read quickly if I need to, but I don't take any pleasure from it. I like to linger on a sentence or a string of words and let it really sink in, and roll with the cadence that good authors put into their works. Of course, I also tend to zone out and realize after turning a few pages that I haven't actually been reading the words at all, only moving my eyes across the page while thinking of something else, and I have to read and re-read something, which means if I tried to really really speed read it would probably just devolve into even greater distractability ...
posted by barnacles at 11:25 PM on May 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

LSK: "I, too, am able to flip a book's pages every 3.75 seconds with a minor degree of comprehension. Just saying."

Speed readers often have better reading comprehension than normal readers. Also if you read the links, she wrote a review of the Potter book right after reading it, apparently published in the Independent though I can't Google it.
posted by stbalbach at 11:26 PM on May 17, 2012

I did not know I had a split personality who has a separate Mefi account. I must have been distracted when I read that part.
posted by Goofyy at 11:36 PM on May 17, 2012

If I'm truly reading at my own pace, it says 350 WPM (although I feel that it skewed, because on that trial I was given a snippet of Alice in Wonderland, with which I was already pretty familiar). I tried another trial wherein I tried to read faster but still understand what was going on and got 422 WPM.

Without skimming, I can't seem to stop my brain from picking up interesting bits of phrasing or word choice and wanting to savor them, which I've noticed slows me down a lot in reading for pleasure. In work/school-related reading, I still re-read things, but it's more to retain it than to enjoy the way it was written.

Still, the site seems to think I read faster than many (40%).
posted by asciident at 11:44 PM on May 17, 2012

posted by unliteral at 11:47 PM on May 17, 2012

Speed readers often have better reading comprehension than normal readers.

For some definition of "reading comprehension," maybe — but there are a lot of different things that both "comprehension" and "reading" can mean, and it's entirely reasonable to object to the narrowness of the one on display here. The little multiple-choice quizzes that this particular test uses as proxies for "comprehension" test retention of trivial, mostly irrelevant details. What would the speed test be like if those questions tested your memorization of the passage, instead, or your understanding of its metrics and rhyme, or just your ability to recap its basic plot or subject or action?

There are many ways to read things, and some of the most interesting ones come only with greater and greater slowness, not with speed. Making it into a race, even just for parlor-trick purposes, often seems just self-defeating. "We can show you how to get a good idea of what the book is about and which bits are important in ten minutes," says the World Speed Reading Council; but I say, and only partly in jest, why are you bothering to read books that have unimportant bits?
posted by RogerB at 11:48 PM on May 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

Speed reading must be an excellent tool for people who need to extract facts from their books quickly. Students, mainly.

But much of the enjoyment of reading fiction and poetry is spending time with the book. Say I could read all of War and Peace in one second. All of it. Every word. And somehow I could cram all of the plot into my head that quickly. Would I enjoy it as much as the person who read it every evening for a couple of weeks, spent time with the characters, and let scenes and dialogs unfold at a fairly normal speed? I can't say for sure because I cannot read War and Peace in one second, but I think the longer read would always be better.

Speed reading books that were written to entertain is like speed eating at a nice restaurant. Yes, you could cram an exquisite meal down your throat in a couple of minutes and wash it down by guzzling an entire bottle of fine wine in a few seconds, but you'd be an idiot to do so, even if you could write a fairly accurate restaurant review after you'd belched and wiped your chin.
posted by pracowity at 11:53 PM on May 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

435 for the one about the pit. 535 for the Alice excerpt and 690 for the Oz one. Seems to vary by material. The Woking/pit piece is more difficult to read.
posted by bz at 11:57 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I averaged 450 or so.

I have always felt that I was a very fast reader, partially skewed due to my generally voracious appetite for reading and tendency to eschew other things, like sleep, in favor of it. I enjoy reading because I like being inserted into the world that the author has created. As such, I'm not sucked in by the wordcraft the way some of you say you are, so that changes the dynamic a little as well.
posted by Night_owl at 12:07 AM on May 18, 2012

As an exercise, I attempted the test again, this time trying to read as slowly as I possibly could while still concentrating entirely on the text, having new thoughts and making new observations only about the words in front of me and not allowing my mind to wander. I managed 120 wpm with the Wells, which seemed pretty good for such dull prose, but with the Carroll I could only get as low as 185, perhaps on account of its familiarity.

Call it reading golf: no doubt if I were a better, more careful reader I could attain a far lower handicap. And I honestly think this version of the game is far more interesting.
posted by RogerB at 12:14 AM on May 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

I read 'IT' by Stephen King in 6 hours when I was 15.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:16 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

1065 weeelookatmego
posted by book 'em dano at 12:18 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

For some definition of "reading comprehension," maybe

No, seriously, by all definitions. I've read about it, they retains the facts better, they absorb it emotionally, have longer term recall. Speed reading is an art and technique that sees the page in pictures and geography, it's not like reading words silently very fast, which of course would be very tedious and not very fun, that isn't speed reading, it's just reading fast.
posted by stbalbach at 12:32 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

A book should be enjoyed like a good Scotch.

That's all I'm saying.
posted by Mezentian at 12:44 AM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I did a lot of speed-reading practice before the LSAT, and it was extremely helpful for those purposes. I was in the 1200+ wpm range at the time with very good comprehension. But I would never read a book that way for pleasure. I suppose some people can, but I can't. For me, the enjoyment of a novel or even nonfiction that I'm reading on my own time is that I can think about it. There is no thinking in speed-reading. There's no appreciating the particular way that somebody phrased something, there's no imagining exactly how the chartreuse apartment walls looked or a woman's gold hair in the light of a window or any of that. At that speed, you read. You don't experience what's happening. You don't hear how the words sound in your head. I don't like it. It's not pleasurable, to me. But I think other people have different priorities.

For stuff like reading for class, though? It's still useful. I test at 789 now, evidently. The reason it's slowed down is that I'm not doing the eye exercises anymore. A lot of it is not so much your reading skill--once you stop subvocalizing, everything goes basically as fast as your eyes go. Which, as it turns out, is not particularly fast ordinarily. Like anything else, that can get faster with practice. But heaven knows I don't intend to bother again to try to get past the point where I am now.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:08 AM on May 18, 2012

1,025 but I only got two of the three comprehension questions right and one was a wild guess. I think my real speed to read a single page is probably about 800, according to a far more in-depth test I took a while ago. When reading actual books, it's probably much faster - if things start to get slow and boring, I blatantly skim, usually by skipping to the bottom of the page and reading every fifth sentence or so back to the top. I don't do this with books I'm in love with, or books that are really well-written, but stuff like Harry Potter and Stephen King? Definitely.
posted by cilantro at 1:14 AM on May 18, 2012

I'm lucky when I can average around 200-300, despite reading for at least half an hour every single day of my life. Even then, I find it hard to pick up much of the detail of what I'm reading. Takes me weeks to read a book, and by the end I generally wouldn't be able to tell you in much more than very general terms what it was 'about', let alone pick up any subtle themes. I'm a terrible, terrible reader; I'm not sure why I enjoy it so much.
posted by pipeski at 1:30 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read very quickly; it's what got me through graduate school. However, the faster I read the less I retain long-term, which I thought was the norm, Stbalach. FWIW, I know I could write a review of a book right after reading it very quickly, but also I know that I've reread a chunk of a book only to realise that I'd read it before. I am pretty sure the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story about the advantages and disadvantages of speed-reading several years ago, but I'm not able to find it at the moment.

I've no idea why you would want to blow through a novel you enjoy really quickly, either. I'm always depressed when I've finished something I've really enjoyed reading becuase now there's no more of it. Yes, you can reread but there's a special thrill in the first time through a really good book that never gets recaptured; you get other benefits through retreading to be sure, but the glory of that first reading...that's in its own category.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:33 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am going to make a test that measures how slowly you read something and how much you enjoyed it.

No matter what score you get, it will say READ SLOWER, YOU DID NOT ENJOY IT ENOUGH.
posted by BeeDo at 1:44 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

755 while still getting all the questions right. Not very practical for daily use. But good that i can, you know, in case i have to read a ransom note before a bomb goes off or something.
posted by jadayne at 1:49 AM on May 18, 2012

Reading isn't a race.
posted by humanfont at 1:53 AM on May 18, 2012 [11 favorites]

""I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia."
Woody Allen.
Can't believe we're 24 comments in, and we haven't had the obligatory quotation already.
posted by Gomoryhu at 2:02 AM on May 18, 2012 [21 favorites]

I'm not going to take this test, because I know I'm much slower than I used to be, and I don't need to feel humiliated today. :)

When I was young, and reading constantly, I tested at about 2,000 wpm if I really hurried, with just about perfect comprehension. (but, as others note, it tended not to make memories that lasted.) In actual practice, I'd read most books at about 100, maybe 125 pages an hour. The major trick that I used was not reading every word; you can read whole phrases as single units. It's not quite skimming, exactly, it's cutting a sentence into two or three chunks, and reading those. You get to the point that you see patterns. It's like typing for your eyes -- your fingers bang out patterns of letters, and your eyes are quite capable of seeing patterns of words without reading the individual ones. But you miss subtleties this way; lovely little turns of phrase and bon mots won't quite register. You're not reading at the word level anymore, so the words the author actually chooses become surprisingly unimportant. You're parsing for ideas and concepts, sort of like defocusing your eyes, ignoring the detail in favor of the big picture.

But it's a different way to read, and as I aged, and slowed down, somewhere along the way, I stopped doing that. These days, I now usually plod along, one word at a time. This is very inefficient, but without a spry young brain, it's most comfortable. I console myself that I probably catch more of the little bits of cleverness along the way, and it certainly saves on the Amazon bill, but I do kind of miss the lightning-quick bookreads of yore.
posted by Malor at 2:02 AM on May 18, 2012

If I'm really into a story and it's not difficult for me to read (I'm thinking here of a typical Robert Parker, Terry Pratchett, James Salter, or Stephen King book) I can devour it, and remember most of the salient points of the book. I'd guess I'm around 4-500 words a minute in that environment.

"Literature," on the other hand, is a slow slog for me, with lots of "huh, did I just 'read' three pages without actually putting my mind in gear?" moments. These tests, for example, I was at about 300, with so-so retention.
posted by maxwelton at 2:03 AM on May 18, 2012

I would love to see the supposed speed reading champion who reads at 4500 wpm. Really?!? I find it difficult to believe anyone can process the ideas that quickly.
posted by shivohum at 2:17 AM on May 18, 2012

When I was in 7th grade or so, I took some class (and, I had forgotten about this until just now) that was designed to make me read faster (I was already a prolific reader, this was just some ego thing). I would spend an hour each day sitting in front of this little machine (a type of microfiche, I imagine) that would scroll lines of text at an adjustable speed.

I got a bit obsessed with this, as a little kid with absolutely no skills in sports and shorter than every boy and girl in class at that point in my life, I needed SOMETHING to brag about, I was going to be the fastest reader in the school/country/world!

I got pretty good at it and could crank out the words at an astounding rate.

But, when all was said read and done, I would go home, grab some Asimov book, climb the tree in the backyard with the book and a bottle of some unhealthy soda, and linger over each word, phrase, sentence, and image for hours. In my heart I knew, however, that I could have ripped off I Robot in about 10 minutes if I really needed to!

And, much to my dismay, being able to read at astounding rates did NOT improve my social status, protect me from swirlies, or get me any hot 8th grade girls.

please note I read this thread in 3.2 seconds, it would have been faster but the damn scroll wheel on my mouse is a bit cranky.
posted by HuronBob at 2:39 AM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

The great comprehension that comes from speed reading a novel is like reading a two page summary of it.

I mean, if I speed-read Nabokov's Ada, I would have missed all the stupendously poetic turns of erotic phrase which I then used on my girlfried, to great effect.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:03 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

A girlfried is nothing to do with speed reading. A girlfried is what you get when you confuse speed dating with fast-food.
posted by howfar at 3:27 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found that really difficult because it plunged me into the middle of a book which I'm not already reading. It felt like I was interpreting symbols rather than constructing and altering a mental model. Subjectively, I read fairly quickly in my first language, but only when I'm in a flow state.

Speed readers: are you really reading for plot/information or do the poetry and sly little jokes come through as well? I can imagine being able to describe the plot pretty accurately reading at 1 page every four seconds, but I doubt I could comment on how the characterisation changes throughout the book, or whether a relationship between characters seemed warm, or polite, or strained, or curt.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:39 AM on May 18, 2012

I like very much the idea that "reading" can be separated from "comprehension."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:42 AM on May 18, 2012

she wrote a review of the Potter book right after reading it, apparently published in the Independent

Yeah. I can't turn up any evidence that there was an IoS review apart from her own claims on her commercial website. There is a review from the Sun, but it's hardly an advertisement for speed reading comprehension.
The final showdown between Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, and his arch-enemy Lord Voldemort, He Who Must Not Be Named, is a classic good-versus-evil tale on a par with Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

The book is very dark — right from the start there is fighting.

In the opening chapter, we are faced not with Harry and the gang, but to Voldemort massing his forces, so you know trouble is afoot.

The first scene of action and danger is gripping, where 15 of the good guys are in mortal danger.

Well-known characters start falling left, right and centre - every casualty is heart-rending, so readers will need nerves of steel for this first part.

However, there are some lighter moments too.

There is a lot of background detail delving into Dumbledore’s murky past, with his family members playing a vital part in this finale.

And the Ministry is infiltrated by Voldemort's warriors — bringing to mind Nazi Germany.

The actual confrontation with Voldemort will satisfy fans — it is superb.

The plot takes up the mission started by Harry in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where he tries to find and destroy the remaining five Horcruxes, magical items containing Voldemort's lifeforce and the reason why he can't be killed.

And in this seventh book, as the title suggests Harry concerns himself with the “Hallows,” which are three magical objects said to make the possessor the Master of Death.

As the battle draws closer, Harry's turmoil is heightened as he has to make a tough decision which could affect the outcome of the battle - should he follow the path of the Hallows or the Horcruxes?

Readers are kept on the edge of their seats. 

There are many surprises, one of the biggest being Snape, who it would seem is working for Voldemort but then saves the day by giving Harry crucial information. But does he live or die as a consequence? 

Harry's best friends Ron and Hermione prove to be formidable foes to Voldemort's army but is there any truth to internet rumours that one of them meets their demise at his hands? 

The book, in parts, is frightening but when all is said and done, J.K. Rowling has left an ending fans will be very happy with.

The final chapter fast forwards 19 years to the future and is an epilogue of what happens to the main characters. 

Without being too critical, the plot does seem to be a bit complicated — but I would not change a word.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows is a real page-turner (literally).
It doesn't take a speed reader to flick through and vaguely outline the plot. She even gets the number of horcruces (whut?) being searched for wrong.
posted by howfar at 4:13 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

781.. not too shabby considering it's 7am and I haven't slept yet.

I did have to laugh at the tests suggestion that I could read "Lord of the Rings" in 10 hours... freaking book took me 3 months to read.
posted by littlesq at 4:16 AM on May 18, 2012

"I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander." -- Isaac Asimov.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:18 AM on May 18, 2012

consumed the last Harry Potter book in 47 minutes, about 1 page every 3.75 seconds.

What a waste of fun.
posted by Tarumba at 4:19 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can do 1000+ if I am really pressed or if I want to terrify my boyfriend, who is not a fan of the flick-flick-flick of devouring pages. But I do miss phrases and so while it is really handy for skimming to figure out if a source is useful or to find a phrase, some writers demand a more loving eyeball speed. Herman Hesse, you dense, deep wretch...
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:42 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

653 for War of the Worlds, 587 for Alice. It's interesting to compare their reading estimates with how long it actually took me to read things, for example, their estimate for War and Peace is 16 hours and 40 minutes, but it really took me around 20 hours, four weeks of reading during my free hour at work. The first Harry Potter book took around 90 minutes, but their estimate is 2 hours and 11 minutes. I wish my kindle would let me see how long it takes for me to read different books - I know that amazon is creepy and knows everything about my reading habits.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:42 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

1360, although for some reason I can only get to the WOTW snippet.

In day-to-day life, I usually read about 100 pgs/hr, although this can speed up or slow down depending on the material. If I read too slowly, I actually lose comprehension.

Speed readers: are you really reading for plot/information or do the poetry and sly little jokes come through as well?

I'm reading for everything (I'd better be--this is a substantial chunk of my job description!). It's just how my brain functions, it appears.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:47 AM on May 18, 2012

There is a review from the Sun, but it's hardly an advertisement for speed reading comprehension.

The exports of Libya are numerous in amount. One thing they export is corn, or as the Indians call it, "maize." Another famous Indian was Crazy Horse. In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrast. Thank you.
posted by EmGeeJay at 4:55 AM on May 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

The Woking/pit piece is more difficult to read.

I concur. The test clocked me at 585 WPM but I know I read faster; I've had a Kindle for six months and have read almost 200 novels since then, occasionally three in a day. The War of the Worlds text was actually slightly hard going, but what really makes a difference for me is if I'm reading for plot (Patricia Cornwell) or reading for prose (John Irving).
posted by DarlingBri at 5:01 AM on May 18, 2012

»Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.«

Q: Where does the girl's name lead the tongue's trip to?
posted by quoquo at 5:06 AM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

There is a strong difference between reading (for pleasure) and reading (for comprehension). If I had known that I was reading to answer a quiz, I would have read at a much slower rate the first time through.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:06 AM on May 18, 2012

I actually sat down to read seriously, just to check, and came in at 487. Then I realized we were racing and got 1834.

I only read at that pace for work, to figure out which bits are worth reading seriously. If folks are reading and comprehending stuff like this at that pace, such that they can write about it cogently, I will happily bow out and let them have my job.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:34 AM on May 18, 2012

I made a very deliberate effort to slow down my reading and enjoy the moment more. I got obsessed with how fast I could read that it seemed like I was more concerned with how far I was into the book rather than having an emotional investment in what I'm reading. I'm still a bit jealous of people that can read more books in a month than I do in a year, but I feel a greater emotional satisfaction in reading now that I've eased off the gas.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 5:37 AM on May 18, 2012

876 wpm. I'd like to credit Metafilter for the practice. And wanting to both do a first post and to RTFA.
posted by the cydonian at 5:51 AM on May 18, 2012

I'd never thought about reading in terms of words per minute before. I do know my normal page rates, which are surprisingly consistent. I average about one minute per page for literary fiction, half that for crappy fluff fiction, and up to twice that for complex academic writing (and slower yet if there is a need to keep checking footnotes or work through detailed charts).

In the test I scored 822 moving fast; that's adequate for remembering who the detective is interviewing in a bad novel, but would be a sorry-ass way to read something of quality. Reading fairly quickly was useful in school and can be a big help at work, but at home I often wish I read slower; I'd save a lot of money on books, for instance.
posted by Forktine at 5:53 AM on May 18, 2012

When I was in elementary school, I was in the gifted classes (this had as much to do with our parents' professions as it did with any innate abilities on my behalf; the only people in my class who were actually gifted according to the tests were the three people born after December 15 of the standard year), wherein we were "rewarded" with extra busywork and reading in class - and quizes we knew didn't really matter. And when I say reading, it wasn't "Here's a copy of Huck Finn, have fun!" It was "comprehension-enhancing" streams of words, and remarkably dull stretches of verbiage that were instantly forgettable.

We got in the habit of racing to see who could finish first. I was pretty good at reading fast and won at least 30% of the time. And it was winning, not "winning". The first one done's hands would go in the air, there'd be a groan among the other students, and you totally wanted to crush the winner the next time. We were 8. The material was boring. The teacher had inevitably stepped out before returning in the last 10 minutes with a quiz. Many of us developed terrible habits, particularly when we determined the content was boring or unworthy.

I still read really fast. As a point of comparison - I can finish a book in two hours that takes 8 hours in books-on-tape form. And my reading comprehension is pretty good. I've guessed the murderer, thought the setting was atmospheric and I'd like to go to the Dales or never spend time in Victorian slums, wished they'd cut out the overuse of flower imagery, and been able to keep straight multiple characters sharing the same name (I'm looking at you Faulkner!). Those patterns I developed when I was 8 (and I'd been reading for 5 years at this time) remain and are hard to kick. I've even tried to read out loud to myself, but it's too slow for my brain. My eye leaps forward. My brain start predicting how words end, how sentences end, how chapters end, doing a cursory fact check even as it processes all of the chunks into words and ideas and sentences. It will slow down a bit if it keeps discovering errors and auto-completed words that don't make sense. It will slow down a bit if I'm really enjoying the prose.

In the back of my head, I'm always scanning for merit and interest and utility and can be pretty open to skipping over a phrase, a section, a chapter, the rest of the book until the last chapter, or just putting down whatever I'm reading IF I think I've "got it" and the prose is uninteresting or repetitive or overly wrought. I'm pretty judgmental about what I'm reading, as I'm reading, figuring out what demands more attention and what I can glide over or even skip. It's pretty subconscious now, but the less interesting whatever I'm reading, the less subconscious my brain's calculations are are: "Skip to the end of the section!" "Skip to tend of the chapter!" "Skip to the end of the book!" "Oh god, STOP READING THIS TRIPE!"
posted by julen at 5:58 AM on May 18, 2012

402 WPM. However, in reality it's more:

> In the early years of this century, such a linen-weaver, named Silas Marner
> Ugh, I have a hangnail. Better get rid of it.
> worked at his vocation in a stone cottage
> Shit, I'm bleeding.
> that stood among the nutty hedgerows
> (looks up at ESPN on TV) Hrm, the Indians are having a good season.
> near the village of
> What do you mean my lunch hour is over?
posted by spamguy at 6:04 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've been slowly reading through Philippe Gaulier's The Tormentor, a book so beautiful I can't bear to read more than a few pages of it at a time. It's been a year or so and I'm still on the fourth or fifth chapter, I think. There's a passage early on in which he describes the essence of good theatre, but really it describes all good art, and it explains why as I've gotten older, my reading pace has slowed tremendously:

The phrase 'Drink, little father', which opens Chekhov's play 'Uncle Vanya', means that Marina, the nurse, is asking Astrov to drink some tea. The rhythm of the phrase spoken by the actress, the rhythms of her walk and breath, all different and opposed, announce other uncertainties: time vanishes. Alcohol kills slowly. Perhaps at this very moment a scientist is calculating the speed of light.

When the meaning of words bathes in other rhythms and estranges itself in other lights, more and more meanings, increasingly distant meanings, are suggested. Do the vibrations which ripple endlessly, which vibrate like wild things and which palpitate at the deepest level, go off to rejoin the explosion before the Big Bang? When the meaning of the words loses itself in the fury of the Big Bang, poetry bursts forth joyfully. I will say, to be simple and sophisticated. that an actor amuses himself with the echo of words which have never been spoken, 'Oi! Moron! Go beyond the cup of tea!'

posted by Rory Marinich at 6:08 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Anne Jones, a Champion Speed Reader who consumed the last Harry Potter book in 47 minutes, about 1 page every 3.75 seconds."

Now do House of Leaves.
posted by mrgoat at 6:08 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few years back, my Whedonesque friends wanted to introduce my Buffy-naïve ass to the canon, so they lent me all of Buffy and all of Angel on DVD. All eight bajillion hours of it.

The first season of Buffy was a bit of a slog, and after that it picked up, but it and Angel fell into the kind of same pattern of several really engaging seasons and then collapsing into a sort of navel-gazing blah while they petered out.

Getting through the last few seasons of both led me to an important discovery: I could speed up playback to 4x on my DVD player, and the subtitles would still work. No audio, but readable dialogue on-screen coupled with, y'know, facial expressions and stuff.

So I basically got through Buffy: The Mopey Years by "speed-reading" the DVDs. Every once in a while, when something looked particularly interesting or good, I'd slow it back down. The musical episode, obviously, had to be watched at regular speed.

Did I enjoy it as much as I would have if I'd been watching the series at regular speed? I honestly don't know. I don't think I would have kept watching. My motivation was what-happens-next, not what-an-experience. I doubt I could speed-watch Wages of Fear, or Das Boot -- the texture, for want of a better word, is very different.

I've never tried speed-reading, but I think there are two different motivators for reading: the pleasure of reading in the moment, and the pleasure of what-happens-next.

I loves me some David Foster Wallace, but I also loves me some Lee Child. I can see myself ripping through a Reacher book for the what-happens-next thrill, but I have a hard time picturing myself tackling Infinite Jest like it's a linear adventure story.

Harry Potter is what-happens-next fiction. Stephen King occasionally has a corking turn of phrase, but he's basically a what-happens-next writer. I can understand why somebody might want to rip through Under the Dome at 1000 WPM and capture the story, and maybe slow down and take their time with a few key passages.

Dom DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, Mervyn Peake -- I think there's also a class of writer that would be very ill-served by speed-reading. Maybe that sounds snobbish. Maybe it is snobbish. But King cheerfully refers to himself as a "talented hack," and I think most writers know whether they're going for Deathless Prose or a Good Read (and sometimes, one can pull off both).
posted by Shepherd at 6:09 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

It has just occurred to me that different books probably have different ideal speeds. I probably ought to vary my reading velocity more. It seems clear in hindsight that although I was going at my normal pace I must have inadvertently speed-read Infinite Jest, for example.
posted by Segundus at 6:09 AM on May 18, 2012

I hadn't fully realised it until now, but I speed-read web pages, code and UIs all day, slowing way down to near talking pace for personal emails, fiction, etc.

So I can get 850-900 without pushing it or getting many questions wrong, but I wouldn't say I'm properly reading, just skimming over some code looking for the important variable names and function calls.
posted by malevolent at 6:10 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Back when I was doing tech support for the Supreme Court I used to find myself in the various judges' chambers on a daily basis. They were all differently-organized. Some were neat, some were disasters. The rooms inhabited by Justice Teague were so carefully organized I was afraid to set foot in there without the judge's associate present in case I messed something up. He was incredibly systematic in the way he organized his caseload. He was also, according to his associate, a phenomenal speed-reader.

Ever since then I've regarded speed-reading as primarily a professional skill useful to anyone who needs to churn through piles of documents rapidly, particularly in law. I don't see how it's really all that great for reading for personal enjoyment, especially given that comprehension is so dependent on the author's stylistic choices. Some books are easy reads - 'page-turners', some aren't. The guy I'm reading at the moment likes to have lengthy dialogues in which you need to work out who is speaking to whom based on the context. I don't know how you could speed-read through that stuff without getting lost.
posted by Ritchie at 6:10 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hats off to the digital agency that created this sticky widget for Staples.
posted by wensink at 6:37 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was just over 1,000 on the Pit material and concur that there is a big difference between types of reading. I often read very plot-based material very quickly because I can absorb that kind of stuff almost as fast as I can read it. I read material for work in a similar fashion and I can absorb and recall very meticulous detail. However, the idea of reading something more lyrical, like poetry, at that speed seems absurd to me. I mean, I could do it and tell you in detail what the poem said, but I would lose something of how the poem felt. If I really want to absorb the intricacies of tone and language and word choice, I read more slowly. There is something about the art of writing that I omit when I read fast. I'll read three intricately plotted spy novels on one flight, but might take a week happily chewing on Gene Wolfe.
posted by Lame_username at 6:49 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Back when I posted on a crossfithel discussion forum folks would post there times for workouts. They'd generally be very good. People were coming in under four minutes on a particular workout, the slow ones would apologize for their six minute times. And there I was rockin a twelve minute finish. Always went ahead and posted my time, damn the ego.

In that spirit I report that I scored 278m when reading The Pit at a comfy reading pace.
posted by Shutter at 6:57 AM on May 18, 2012

I scored under 200 with essentially zero comprehension- I got one out of 3, but it was all guessing. Where's my prize?
I'm amazed that I got a SAT Verbal score of 604 when I pretty much had to read everything 3 times in order to understand the questions.
posted by MtDewd at 7:07 AM on May 18, 2012

You're not reading at the word level anymore, so the words the author actually chooses become surprisingly unimportant. You're parsing for ideas and concepts, sort of like defocusing your eyes, ignoring the detail in favor of the big picture.

Nabokov wants to murder you from beyond the grave
posted by gonna get a dog at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by Aquaman at 7:59 AM on May 18, 2012

I tend to read novels at roughly 100 pages per hour, probably because I read far too many potboilers.

When I first encountered Titus Groan I ripped into it at my usual pace, and by the time I'd got to page 14 I had no idea what was going on any more. So I flipped back to the start, and took it slowly.

Mervyn Peake's prose is as rich and dense as a wonderful Christmas pudding, and the Gormenghast trilogy is long. There are many hours of intensely pleasurable reading there. I cannot imagine why anybody would wish to make that experience pass more quickly.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Interesting. I took speed reading back in high school--that was over a quarter century ago. Back then, when I got above two thousand, my comprehension really tanked, but I could skim for info at a consistent 1500-1750 wpm.

Reading here, as directed, without skimming, I expected to score below 1000, (when I took pre-tests before the speed reading training, I was already reading at 750 wpm).

Actually, I scored a little over 1200 (1211), answering all three questions correctly easily. That was a pleasant surprise. Good to know I am not really losing it now that I am older!

I read all 5 of the Sword of Fire and Ice series (Game of Thrones) in about two weeks, so that sounds about right, when you toss in real-life distractions. I agree that when you are reading for substance and retention (necessary for George Martin's works, for instance, where characters come and go like ants at a picnic), you don't want to read as quickly as you can.

What's the point of reading fiction so quickly that you lose the nuance, the characterizarion? Fiction is for fun. Speed reading is for separating the wheat from the chaff: taking boring, dry text and iextracting the important facts and figures before you fall asleep!
posted by misha at 8:40 AM on May 18, 2012

My scores (610 on the pit, 453 on Alice, and 820 skimming on Oz) confirm my suspicion that I don't really read that fast. I get through 60+ books in a year, but it's sheer time investment, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's not fun if you're rushing. And hence the lowest score on Alice, which I love!
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:35 AM on May 18, 2012

1252, doing the skimming-skipping thing. Probably half that, reading like a normal person.
posted by penduluum at 9:49 AM on May 18, 2012

My natural reading speed is on the fast side, but over the years I have come to realize that the faster I read, the less I retain in the long term.

Audiobooks have been a godsend. They move at the pace of the narrator's voice, which seemed preposterously slow to me at first. Once I got used to it, I found that when I listen to an auidobook, I have a comprehensive memory of the entire work, even years later. Whereas if I'm not careful, there are books I've read that I can barely remember a week later.
posted by ErikaB at 10:22 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's interesting to watch how one's children pick this up. Some just go very fast, very early on.
posted by mdoar at 10:25 AM on May 18, 2012

I can read quickly if I need to, but I don't take any pleasure from it.

It's a common refrain for me, but if it's one of the Quentyn Martell chapters, I take pleasure in getting through them as quickly as possible.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:50 AM on May 18, 2012

What's the point of reading fiction so quickly that you lose the nuance, the characterizarion? Fiction is for fun. Speed reading is for separating the wheat from the chaff: taking boring, dry text and iextracting the important facts and figures before you fall asleep!

Well the balance for me is that there are X more books that I won't be able to read in my life because THERE'S JUST NOT ENOUGH TIME (I claim as I watch reruns of Trailer Park Boys ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2012

The most interesting thing to me were the stats that showed different groups of people having radically different reading speeds. High-level executives, academics and students preparing for tests seemed esp high scoriing. I'd have thought all those groups would have radically different reading styles for their work. I have been in and around all those categories of people a fair bit too. Though I guess in academia, the subject makes a big difference. Sometimes with math papers a few hours per page is pretty good going I seem to remember. In executive mode, you often have to get through a heck of a lot of material, and people develop strategies for coping with that, but you seldom have to read very closely or grapple with anything too difficult.

My score on the War of the Worlds extract was 238. Maybe it was a little slower because of pausing to think "What is this?", "What's going on here?", "Is this from something I've read?" etc. But probably it's in the ballpark I would have for reading a novel, which is roughly the same speed as speaking the text if you were performing it or reading to other people. Because usually I am kinda performing it to myself.

I'm surprised that at that speed reading War and Peace would only take just over 40 hours, or Lord of the Rings only 33 hours. Though I'm sure War and Peace is much denser reading, and I wouldn't be as fast on it.
posted by philipy at 11:21 AM on May 18, 2012

As someone with experience running eye-tracking studies on real-time sentence processing (specifically so-called "garden path" syntactic ambiguity effects), I would be really interested to see an eye-tracking study conducted with her as the subject. If her comprehension really doesn't suffer very much, and she isn't in fact just saccading along very rapidly over nearly every token of text, I wonder what the secret strategy is at work here.

Are her eyes strategically darting around the page to meaningful keywords? Is she mapping out crucial relationships between recurring elements that clue her in enough to the developing plot so that she may make reasonably correct inferences? Her site makes mention of a "guiding" element, which dyslexics apparently use with some success. Someone upthread mentioned "the geography of the text". I'm not sure how meaningful that metaphor really is, but I'd be open to some reading study investigating it.

Any reading/developmental/language psychologists in the house?
posted by stroke_count at 12:11 PM on May 18, 2012

Yes, but at what speed do you watch movies? I am quite comfortable with 32x. I get all the important information, not that there's very much of it in the first place.

I believe this puts me in the elevated rank of Film Cunt Degree 8. But if I were to devote my whole attention to the movie, rather than simultaneously balancing my checkbook, fabricating custom-made spider-silk dolls for sale on Etsy, and polishing off my quantum mechanics degree, I would be comfortably in Film Cunt Degree 9.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 12:12 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got 3500 wpm and refused to answer the patronizing quiz.
posted by TheRedArmy at 1:43 PM on May 18, 2012

Average 900-1300 here, depending on material. Agree with those above, however... to really enjoy it I also need to slow down. Give me a Guy Gavriel Kay book and I'll guess my average drops to about 200wpm, simply because (imo) his writing is too intense and detailed to read at my usual pace. The beauty goes away(and I run out of his books faster)!

It is incredibly useful for scanning large texts for work, or re-reading a favourite novel, however.
posted by irishkitten at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2012

I got 1197 on the first Woking read and 2/3. I went back and read it more thoroughly and got 917 - but even then I think I need to slow down more to properly absorb it.

I watched The Lovely Bones when it came out on DVD and liked it, so I read the book and enjoyed it. Not long after I was reading an old Livejournal post of which I said I'd read the book about two years before the movie. I read a lot, and I read fast, and the books I remember reading are the ones I have gone back to again and again. I still remember how much I loved Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming when I was 11, and Monica Dickens's Messenger series when I was 8 - because I had read them fast, then gone back and really absorbed them.
posted by tracicle at 2:42 PM on May 18, 2012

I can't seem to break 350wpm. I guess I will just console myself that at least I read an hour daily. That is just as good as reading fast, right?
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:19 PM on May 18, 2012

"...consumed the last Harry Potter book in 47 minutes, about 1 page every 3.75 seconds."

What a waste of fun. posted by Tarumba

Not at all - there's at least 47 minutes of fun in that book. Maybe 48.
posted by sneebler at 5:34 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anne Jones, a Champion Speed Reader who consumed the last Harry Potter book in 47 minutes, about 1 page every 3.75 seconds.

Meh. I read Snooki's entire book in 3.75 seconds.

(Full disclosure: I sometimes get reading confused with throwing things in the trash.)
posted by anothermug at 8:29 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dom DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, Mervyn Peake -- I think there's also a class of writer that would be very ill-served by speed-reading. Maybe that sounds snobbish. Maybe it is snobbish. But King cheerfully refers to himself as a "talented hack," and I think most writers know whether they're going for Deathless Prose or a Good Read (and sometimes, one can pull off both).

It's not snobbish, it's just silly. Prose can be simultaneously thrilling and beautiful. Aesthetics doesn't mean "drop everything, slow down, here comes Poetry". Prose can simultaneously be mundane and slow, or fast and gorgeous. In fact, some of the best modern writers are the ones who manage to fuse the two, attracting huge audiences and exposing them to something absolutely gorgeous. It's entirely pointless to separate the one class of writers from the other.

The evolution of mass media means writers are realizing they can reach a wider audience than was ever possible before. Techniques are evolving to catch attention amongst the enormous variety of literature being written today. Some writers choose instead to write without worrying about getting a huge readership; that's fine, it's what enriches our culture so, but it doesn't make those other writers better. It doesn't even make them more probable good writers, since there're as many deluded writers as there are fandesperate ones.

In any case, splitting them into sides – popular versus "deathless" (ew) ignores the trend of all art through all ages, which is that the best art of every era comes from using popular techniques to say the same old profound messages that some delude themselves into thinking can only be expressed through certain well-cultivated phrases. It reminds me of a poem by an old teacher of mine, the fantastic Doug Goetsch:
You nature poets think you've got it, hostaged
somewhere in Vermont or Oregon,
so it blooms and withers only for you,
so all you have to do is name it: primrose
- and now you're writing poetry, and now
you ship it off to us, to smell and envy.

But we are made of newspaper and smoke
and we dunk your roses in vats of blue.
Birds don't call, our pigeons play it close
to the vest. When the moon is full
we hear it in the sirens. The Pleiades
you could probably buy downtown. Gravity
is the receiver on the hook. Mortality
we smell on certain people as they pass.
there's at least 47 minutes of fun in that book. Maybe 48.

I've read Harry Potter through at least a dozen times; I'm stalled rereading it yet again, actually. Each time I find myself reading it slower, savoring the language more. I'm actually surprised at how it's grown richer as I've returned to it; I used to agree wholesale that Rowling's prose style was "workmanlike", as I remember a critic calling it, but now I'm realizing that there's subtlety and depth to her language which has continued to unfold for me.

Stephen King is the same way, actually – not all his works, and his plots are rarely as good as Harry Potter's, but I took the sheer gorgeousness of his language for granted at first, and now I'm astonished at how much of a world he's capable of painting without ruining the pace. The best works of English literature are often unnoticed at first – not unread, but misunderstood, by people who go into them assuming they know what they're going to take out, and leaving with nothing more than what they had in their head all along.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:33 PM on May 18, 2012

BTW I'm really impressed by the reading speed so many have posted. Sadly my fastest reading was done when I was 14 years old and experimented with "uppers" and read Watership Down in a day or so (with tremendous comprehension to this day 30 years later), totally get how that works, and how when you're sick things slow way down - it's a function of brain health, eye health, age, native intelligence, perseverance, material being read, interest level, physical layout of the text, and technique. We can control for some of these factors some of the time.
posted by stbalbach at 8:41 PM on May 18, 2012

938 with all three questions right but it was no fun like that.
posted by lollusc at 3:26 AM on May 19, 2012

2,160 words per minute. I blame reading Teletext as a kid.

I can easily read a book in a day if I take it out with me on a day when I'm spending a lot of time on buses, tubes or trains.
posted by mippy at 1:35 AM on May 21, 2012

Also: my memory verges on eidetic, so it freaks people out when they don't believe I've read something that fast and I can repeat it back to them verbatim. It happens less since I was prescribed some medication that makes me tired and sluggish, and I miss it.
posted by mippy at 1:37 AM on May 21, 2012

Yeah. I can't turn up any evidence that there was an IoS review apart from her own claims on her commercial website. There is a review from the Sun, but it's hardly an advertisement for speed reading comprehension.

The Sun's 'reading age' is about 11 years old. That review looks in line with the kind they would usually publish as part of an article to me. The Independent, being a broadsheet (well, it's tabloid format these days) would publish something much more in depth, similar to the Guardian, not as prolix as the LRB. It'd be interesting to find that one to compare.
posted by mippy at 1:41 AM on May 21, 2012

Also (sorry, am commenting as I read the thread) something like Harry Potter I'd read very quickly, because it's plot rather than prose driven (imo). I will rocket through a thriller or a chick-lit novel, but something that feels denser to me (any non-fiction on a topic I'm not too familiar with, or 'literature') will take me longer.,
posted by mippy at 1:43 AM on May 21, 2012

I just told my husband about this test (and thread) and asked him if he wanted to have a go.

"Nah," he said. "My penis is already pretty big."
posted by lollusc at 5:14 AM on May 21, 2012

I think it's great that your husband doesn't mind you talking about his erections and speed-reading fetish on the internet. Some people can be so prudish about that stuff, but polymorphous perversity is the defining feature of the human libido, so why fight it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:58 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

936, although that was definitely a bit faster than normal. I generally average 100 pages an hour of standard novel text, which is a more useful number to me.

(It was surprising how much my reading speed helped me out when I got into forum moderation. I could pretty much read ALL THE THINGS at my last couple of jobs, although Metafilter totally defeats me in that regard.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:32 PM on May 21, 2012

I read as though Ian Mckellen is reciting it to me as an audio book.
At the very least I read dialogue as if it were being acted on a stage.

When I was younger I could plow through books, now any book is suddenly a 25 hour long movie.
posted by Theta States at 9:18 AM on May 25, 2012

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