How to Become a Speed Reader

Actually, I don’t really know how speed reading is officially defined. I know the concept exists and I know it is a goal that people aspire to. (Kinda like being in love.) I’ve been told I read pretty fast and may be considered a “speed reader” because, depending on content, I can get the gist of a page in less than 10 seconds. Admittedly, the issue at hand cannot be overly technical and decent font-size is required. When I was 10, I won a school prize for the most books read over a month (gift voucher for more books) – and I had only listed half the books I read, not knowing it was a secret competition. (Geek Alert)

When it comes to retention, I remember names, emotions, and event sequences very well. What filters out during a session of speed reading is ruminating soliloquy, extensive scene painting (the meandering vegetation sprang lush in the wake of dawn’s sparkling dew – the grass was green and wet, I get it …), and descriptions of mechanical functions not prima facie relevant to the plot (I filter out Latin terms too). As a result, I sometimes have to flip back to a certain page when I realize that the angle of the villain’s facial mole was indeed crucial to solving the mystery. E-book devices have thus impeded my progress in this regard as the e-pages don’t flip as fast. But on the other hand, I don’t waste any time searching for the place I left off. On average, I tend to take 2-3 hours to finish a JackReacher type of novel, and much less for Nora Roberts (contingent of course on actual size of book).

Nobel Prize Winners don't pander to speed readers.

Nobel Prize Winners don’t pander to speed readers.

You’d think speed reading would be useful when you have two weeks to inhale Constitutional Law in Canada: Cases and Materials before an exam. Unfortunately, as legal tomes require intense focus, reading fast doesn’t quite cut it. (For court judgments, read them on a computer so you can word search). 

Here are some thoughts for free:

  1.  Skimming: As you probably know, speed reading is just skimming. When I skim, certain words leap out and my mind forms an image of what is happening. This then leads into a bit of anticipation which helps skim the next page efficiently. However, when there is a twist, the skimming slows down.
  2. Skipping: Reading is for pleasure. So when there are “boring bits”, feel free to jump paragraphs until your eyes rest on the next captivating line.
  3. Practice a lot. (Start in the womb if you can)
  4. Watch all your movies with subtitles. This really enhances your aptitude.
  5. If you try to do it with Dostoevsky, you’re missing the point.
  6. If you’re going to get hung up on persnickety details like whether World War I broke out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, this is not for you.
  7. Do not implement this with your boss’ emails (no matter how much it may be warranted).

But in all honesty, being a speed reader is not much use when you are myopic-astigmatic and don’t go out with your glasses. Even the McDonald’s menu is a challenge, as you stand there squinting, taking 5 minutes to figure out the different flavours of sundae.

Social Habits That Lead to Charming Spectacles

I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any Chinese person to know that lots of us, more than any other ethnicity in the world, wear eyeglasses. I started wearing glasses at around 13, and that was pretty late compared to my classmates and siblings. I remember many of my friends starting at around 8 years. I have a friend in The Hague whose son is 5 and is already sporting the Harry Potter look. Back then, I too longed for that ultimate accessory, but now, I’d only be too glad to be rid of them. Glasses

The influence of genetics on myopia cannot be denied. However, it seems the prevalence of specs-wearers among the Asian species is also in part due to our social habits. Or rather, our anti-social ones. The lack of exposure to sunlight as result of our focus on studying has rapidly caused our eyesight to deteriorate. (Some irony in the fact that countries like Singapore or Taiwan, with more than their fair share of sunlight would end up depriving themselves.)

I cannot deny that Asian parents (and all the clucking relatives) place an inordinate amount of emphasis on bookishness. As a kid, I was rewarded, usually in the form of cold hard cash, for excellent exam results. Though some of my fondest memories from youth were at the swimming pool, tennis and badminton courts, people rarely asked what sport I enjoyed. In fact, I was part of the few who did have frequent sport and recreational time. Most of my classmates shuttled around extra tuition classes on a daily basis and many of them were indeed rewarded by a few extra points at exam time. Those extra classes cost their parents dearly, but it was for the greater good I suppose.

In the end, your habits start early and they shape the path to your destiny. Reading and writing has continued to be a lifelong obsession and coerced me into the legal trade. While I myself have neither the aptitude nor inclination for say, rock climbing, I wonder what the future holds for Petit-Homme.