How to Read a Book: Reading Speeds

Posted by Thomas Eglinton on

Reformers Resource: How to Read a Book -- Series by Thomas Eglinton

Here are a few tips that Alder gives regarding the speed at which you read.

Something I had not thought about previously is the fact that I can be wasteful in how I read. Think about what your eyes are doing as they read - even this article. Do they flow smoothly across the page/screen? Or is the movement jolted, stopping and starting, ducking back to re-read a few words or even a whole sentence? Consider how wasteful this can be in terms of the time it takes to read a book.

Adler's tip for training yourself to read faster, without jumping back and forth and stopping and starting is to get yourself a highly technical tool. He calls it a 'finger'. You place your finger on the page and move it smoothly along the line of text. The trick is to move it quickly - just a touch faster than you are comfortable with - and to not let your eyes lag behind.

Now, I know this sounds crazy but it actually works! Seriously, try it. Pick up a book and use your finger to guide your eyes quickly along the line of text. It will help train your eyes to read quickly and efficiently.

The one thing that you want to be aware of, however, is that as you work to be less wasteful in your reading, don't loose the main point of reading which is comprehension. You should remove waste while ensuring that you are still active and comprehending. Using your finger as a guide can help with this as it ensures that you are a little more engaged in the act of reading.

Alder gives an example of how the speed of reading can be balanced by the rule of comprehension. He describes reading the Declaration of Independence (he is an American so we will have to forgive him for that). It is a three page document but Adler points out that different parts of it need to be read at different speeds. The first two paragraphs contain most of the important stuff with the last sentence of the second paragraph stating "To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world". The following two pages then list the 'facts' that Jefferson thought were relevant. Alder points out that the 'facts' can be read quite quickly but the first two paragraphs probably can't be read by anyone 'at a rate much faster than 20 words per minute'.

So, we have a simple tool for reducing wastefulness in our reading - our finger - and a simple guide to work out how fast we should read - comprehension.

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