Is speed-reading as good as it sounds?

Is speed-reading as good as it sounds?

Speed reading!
Learn speed reading!
Double your English-reading speed!
Read English faster! Quick, fast, faster… faster still!
Hold your horses. Slow down a bit and let me break a lance in favor of slow reading.

But first things first:
It was Evelyn Wood who in the 1950s coined the term speed reading which she later renamed as Reading Dynamics, a catchier and more provoking label. The idea was to read faster while being able to grasp the meaning of the text. The goal was to read more, to go over more text, more articles, more books… in less time. A praiseworthy objective, of course.
President Robert Kennedy, it seems, endorsed Wood’s method and, we suppose, used it in his daily presidential activities.

Wood’s speed reading had, naturally, imitators who sort of copycatted the idea of reading faster, like Photoreading, Meta Guiding and others, all based on the simple idea of gliding your eyes over the page, not reading individual words in your mind’s eye, guiding your finger through the page, scanning whole paragraphs and even pages, skipping sentences and not pausing your eyes on any given word.

Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo (1856-1912), the Spanish scholar, was an avid reader who devoured books to gather information for his monumental works. He was a fast reader who skimmed pages, skipping the fat and going to the bone, to the core of the facts, the ideas, the gist of the book, long before Speed Reading was “invented.

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Is speed-reading as good as it sounds?

Fast reading is necessary when we must gather facts, when we read factual works, when a citation is needed for our purpose… and that’s the long and the short of it.

Can you imagine someone going through the Prado Museum in one hour? How would you enjoy the Louvre and its great paintings breezing through its halls in half an hour?

Friedrich  Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote in his preface to Dawn, daybreak, (1881): “I am not a philologist in vain – perhaps I am not one yet: a teacher of slow reading. I even come to write slowly. At present it is not only my habit but even my taste… For philology is that venerable art which exacts from its followers one thing above all, to leave themselves spare moments, to grow silent, to become slow — the leisurely art of the goldsmith applied to language: an art which must carry out slow, fine work, and attains nothing if not lento.… it teaches how to read well, i.e. slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, … learn to read well!”

When we read a book of essays, a book of poems, fiction, memoirs… there is no rush to finish, there is no urge to get to the end, because it is like strolling among words, as if we were taking a walk, ambling among roses in a garden. Sauntering amid words, the creators of ideas, is like a mental daily constitutional we should all permit ourselves often.
Slow reading in our spare moments, when, as Nietzsche tells us, we grow silent and become slow and commune with a good writer and with ourselves, is one of the joys of life.

Let us put aside fast reading at times, and take up our slow-reading constitutional on a daily basis in order to put some order in our troubled minds and regain our inner balance. Easy does it, so says the proverb. Steady as it goes. Festina lente.

Delfín Carbonell Basset

Delfín Carbonell is a graduate of Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Ph.D. in Philology from Madrid and has authored 35 books in both English and Spanish, published by McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Larousse, Anaya and Serbal. He has taught at Pitt, F&M, Scranton and Murray St. University.