My Theory about Fast Readers

I am a slow reader. Yes, it’s true. (I like to think it’s because I’m reading deeply . . . but I also have a theory, so read on.)

I took a speed-reading class in college to try and help myself get through the enormous reading load at U.C. Santa Cruz. All that class taught me was how to be tense . . . while I read slowly.

Most people who know me probably think I was one of those kids who holed up and read in my room for hours on end. But I wasn’t. As soon as I got home from school, I changed into my play clothes and ran outside to practice cartwheels on the front lawn or find a tree to climb. I didn’t become an avid reader until I was about 12. And even then, I spent just as much time building things and playing and exploring outdoors.

So, here’s my theory on how people become fast readers (based on a very limited sampling of people): Those who read fast as adults were, as children, the type of people who devoured books for hours on end . . . before the age of 12.

Please help me test out my theory by answering these questions in a comment:

1) Are you a fast reader or a slow reader?

2) Did you hole up and read for hours on end before the age of 12?

I know you all are stopping by and reading my blog . . . Please don’t be shy. Share your thoughts!

Related post: Learning to Read.


12 comments on “My Theory about Fast Readers

  1. Miriam says:

    hi Nomi,
    It could be due to a learning/processing disabilty or AD/HD. Many kids/adults that i see professionally have that issure.

    How is your writing class? So sorry i’m missing it.

    Hope to see you soon!

    • writingcoachnomi says:

      Interesting anecdote, though, about my reading slowly: When I was in college, a friend and I were in the same class. We used to study together, and when we sat down to do a reading assignments, it took me twice the amount of time to read an assignment as it took her. But one time, after we’d done our reading, I asked her what she thought about one of the aspects of the chapter we’d read and she didn’t know what I was talking about! So, was I reading slowly . . . or was she reading too quickly to retain anything? (Alternately phrased: was she reading or was she just passing her eyes over the text?)

    • writingcoachnomi says:

      So, how about you, Miriam? Your answers to the questions I posed?
      (And my class is going very well. Thanks! It’s an awesome group of students!)

  2. Bob Litvak says:

    Nomi – I’m definitely a slow reader, sometimes just a chapter at a time. It wasn’t always that way. We didn’t have a TV until I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Many times during the summer, or after school, I’d spend hours in the children’s section of the Santa Monica Library, going aisle by aisle, looking for books that interested me. I remember reading a lot of biographies, usually of historical figures. For some unknown reason they had orange covers. After four years of required reading at UCLA I didn’t pick up a book until Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and I didn’t want that one to end. Recently I’m buying, reading and giving away more books, since discovering that a Goodwill Bookstore had opened up in my neilghborhoos.

    • writingcoachnomi says:

      Bob, I could totally picture you as a little guy walking down the aisles of the Santa Monica Library.
      (I think you might have “disproved” my theory, however!)

  3. Carlene Brown, MA. Ed. says:

    Like you, Nomi, I read deeply–highlight & dogear pages of my books. I think that stems from my preparing literature lessons for class discussions. I didn’t want to leave a stone unturned, and besides, I love language! So I like to savor what is on the page. Now that I am no longer teaching literature classes, however, I love designing my own curriculum–and skipping whatever passages I choose to skip. Sometimes I revisit books and pick up on passages I had skipped previously because something new is happening in my life that those passages speak to.

    No, I did not read for hours before the age of 12, and I have forgotten what the other two questions were!

    • writingcoachnomi says:

      Hi Carlene,
      Nice to know there are other slow, deep readers out there!
      You answered my questions: You’re not a fast reader and you didn’t hole up and read as a child (before the age of 12). Thus, you fit my theory to a degree.

  4. writingcoachnomi says:

    I suspect that the before-twelve book devouring converges with certain developmental changes in the brain that happen in those early years.

  5. Dan Warren says:

    Hi Nomi,

    I read faster than most, but my speed depends on the material I am reading: fast for fiction, slow (and sometimes, glacial) for material I am reading to retain (professional, technical content).

    I started early, reading comic books in the candy store. When I realized that I could go through an entire issue in a few minutes, I treated the revolving comic book stand as my personal lending library. This lasted until the owner figured out that his sales were non-existent when I was around the comic books. By then, what I was reading in that format simply did not occupy enough time, nor supply enough food for my imagination.

    I graduated to using the Library at age 8, when I could get my own Library card. The Library was much more satisfactory in what it offered, and was especially cost-effective, since my reading habit was fed for free unless I did not bring the books back on time. For various economic reasons, that did not happen very often!

    When I was 12 or so, I discovered science fiction. I pretty much went through what was on the shelves of the Library in the small, up-state New York town we were vacationing in. I remember with great joy discovering science fiction anthologies of several hundred pages: they took at least three days to go through, even if I was reading for hours on end (which was not always the case since I did a variety of outdoors sports and activities).

    My fiction reading has been more in the mystery and action genres lately. I have been building a world in the future that I am writing about which satisfies my old interest in science fiction. That coupled with my involvement with computers and other communication devices (can you say, “iPhones”?), keeps me scrambling to get enough ahead of where the state of the art is now so that I can write of the future and not be out of date relative to Time Now.

    I think there may be something to be said for reading speed being related to how you are wired up from the beginning. I have been reading a book called “The Element” by Ken Robinson in which he holds that there are many different kinds of intelligence, and that each person is a collection of unique intelligence combinations. I think reading quickly may be related to an ability to process visually. If I am correct, a person that can “take in things at a glance” (process a picture or image quickly) will be more likely to be a fast reader. There are other components in the chain to perceiving and processing text and pictures of course. The way an individual’s brain works to assimilate text and pictures may be at odds with speed of processing, but may help with retention of those things at a greater level than the “speed reader”. (I sure would like to have both, but then I have always wanted more, haven’t you?) The component of memory and its efficiency is a separate issue potentially I think and may be why a fast reader does not do so well in recalling material compared to someone reading more slowly.

    I have dabbled with speed-reading techniques and they can improve performance, sometimes quite considerably, if by performance you mean finishing the material in a shorter time. Each of us has to learn where our optimum reading speed is to retain the content. For me, if I have to absorb the content, my reading speed will be very much slower since I am actively engaged in processing the content in a way that I hope will make it more memorable and useful (and retrievable!) later on. I don’t do that when I am “reading for recreation” so my reading speed is faster.

    Anyway, if you are unsatisfied with the time it takes you to read something, you can try speed reading or other training to help you read more material in a shorter time. Sometimes just getting the right eyeglass prescription or renewing your contact lens prescription can make a great difference in the speed and comfort associated with your reading. Also, getting enough sleep and doing the correct things so you are physically at top form would help, it seems to me.

    • writingcoachnomi says:

      Thanks, Dan! Nice to “see” (read) you.
      You clearly have a wealth of knowledge on this subject. Thanks for sharing with us.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I read very slowly, and probably move my lips as I read, too. I always enjoyed story-telling, but was not an avid reader before twelve. I came home from school, changed my clothes and hit the forest for some big-time fort-building every day. I needed to move and do. I have to keep myself in two book clubs to keep the reading deadlines pushing me! (I’d still rather play outside.)

    • writingcoachnomi says:

      You sound like my kind of person, Stephanie. I still have to take breaks from reading and writing to go play outside——hike, climb a tree . . . forts sound cool.

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