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January 5, 2011

You have to be a speedy reader

I’ve long followed the dictum of Dr. Seuss who wrote in his great work I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, “You have to be a speedy reader because there’s so so much to read.” I’ve also come under the influence of Art Garfunkel (naturally), who keeps an online list of books he’s read since 1968. (I wish I had kept such a list online. My own “Books Read Since 2006” disappeared with my hard drive in June 2009). And however much I enjoyed Steven Beattie’s post calling for slow, considered reading, for an end to the competitive reading fad (and, for those of you who get out more than I do, such a thing actually exists), I must now mount my own defence of the speedy read,  because it’s the only way for me.

It comes naturally to me, reading books quickly. For a while, I tried to slow down, but it made me miserable. When I read, I find that I’m not racing to the next book as much as I’m barrelling through the book I’m in, and I love the momentum. I love taking in a book all at once, or as much as possible, in one sitting. Devouring, live and whole. The way blood pumps through my veins is how I like to read my books, pulsing, surging, singing, vital.

I love how reading one book after another illuminates the most curious connections. I love how reading quickly permits such breadth, and bizarre reading tangests for the fun of it: Barbara Pym, all the Mitfords, my Judith Viorst-a-thon etc., and still keep up on what’s current. I love how a book in a day means that the book was my day, inextricably tied, and therefore my books read list functions as a kind of diary.

And yes, I love my books read list (now Since May 2009), which doesn’t necessarily have to be numbered, I realize, but the numbers are something tangible I’ve built out of book after book. A commitment to reading lots isn’t always a commitment to reading too quickly– it means reading instead of any number of things, such as television, bedtime, or walking down the street bookless. It’s making reading a main priority, which is something to be celebrated. This kind of commitment can be a joyful one too, and not a chore. I am really happier reading (a good book) than when I’m doing most anything else in the world. It’s not a competitive sport with other people as much as with myself: I want to read all the worthwhile books that exist in the world, or at least as many as I can possibly manage.

Being a fast reader doesn’t mean I’m a bad reader, particularly because I’m conscious of the drawbacks to my furious reading pace. Which is the reason I started my books read list, for tracking purposes. Which is the reason I started blogging about books in the first place: to provide me with a space for reflection, a way to engage deeper with the books I come across. Which is the reason I make a point of rereading books as often as I do (and that’s the great thing about speedy reading: it gives us the time to do so).

It is possible for quality and quantity to be most excellent bedfellows. I will indeed be heeding Steven’s challenge for us “to read better: to be more sensitive, expansive readers, to enter more deeply into the text, to actively engage with books on an intellectual, aesthetic, and linguistic level”, but there’s just no way I’m slowing down, because I’m only getting started.

6 thoughts on “You have to be a speedy reader”

  1. Melwyk says:

    I will sign on to this speedy reader manifesto! As always, you’ve put my as-yet unformed thoughts into perfect paragraphs 🙂

  2. alexis says:

    Thanks for writing this. As another speedy reader, I really appreciate it.

  3. But, you miss my point: I made it clear that some people read quickly, others read more slowly. I don’t care how many books one reads in a year. (I think I said that somewhere in there.) What I object to is the imposition of artificial deadlines and challenges to read a certain number of books in a given time, which puts the emphasis in entirely the wrong place.

    1. Kerry says:

      Sorry, Steven. I was just hungry for an excuse to quote Dr. Seuss.

  4. Nathalie says:

    I am greedily, greedily devouring _I Capture the Castle_, and I so want to save a bit for another day, but there’s just no way to stop barrelling through this delicious book. So glad you put this into words and that I remembered, even in the midst of a fevered reading.

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