The Sunday Salon: Reading Speed

(I just checked my scheduled posts, and discovered that this Sunday Salon is my three hundredth post on The Literary Omnivore! Goodness.)

In Mark Bauerlein’s alarmist The Dumbest Generation, he mentions in passing that the kids these days just won’t devote the ten hours it takes to read a three hundred book. My first reaction when reading that was, “It takes you ten hours to read a three hundred page book?” Readers of my generation cheerfully volunteer just how long it took for them to read Harry Potter and the Death Hallows–usually well into the morning of the 22nd. I myself took eight hours. Part of the reason some kids don’t fall in love with reading is the simple fact that it doesn’t come as easily to them as other children. Thus, devoted readers tend to read books faster than the average Jane.

But is reading speed actually important when it comes to reading?

Obviously, you can read something too fast–ask me if I remember Silas Marner. You miss out on the complexity of language and even some plot points. But is it really possible to read something too slowly? Reading isn’t a competition, but I think people who read slowly are sometimes looked askance at, as if taking so long means they’re not getting it. But reading a book slowly has its joys, and some books need to be read slowly in order for the reader to appreciate the language and the depth an author has put into their work. (And, let’s face it, nobody is breezing through The Lord of the Rings or anything Dorothy Dunnett ever wrote. If they say they are, they are liars.)

But I have to admit, I do find it a bit frustrating when I realize I need to slow down, usually after I move on to a denser book after a frothy one. I can get through a Jodi Picoult or a Gossip Girl novel (Shame? Please, I’m a geek) in about a day, but other books usually take at least two to three days when I have good reading time. Then again, it took me two weeks to get through King Hereafter, which had never happened to me before and, naturally, frustrated me. But I think I sometimes place too much important on making good time through a book; reading is about experiencing the novel, not just conquering it.

Speaking of which, I spent most of last week reading Gordon Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, which was a book that rewarded patience–I almost feel dizzy now that I’m onto Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire. Sanderson himself is going to be at Dragon*Con, and I thought I’d check it out on the off chance I adore it and want him to sign something, like my ARC of The Way of Kings. (I’m so excited for Dragon*Con. I even made a last minute Captain Kirk costume, I’m that excited.)

This week, Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog is giving away a copy of Madeleine Wickham’s A Desirable Residence until Saturday. (Wickham might be better known as Sophie Kinsella to some of you.) Angela at Sci-Fi Chick is currently giving away three books; George Mann’s The Osiris Ritual, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead, and A Wild Light. Over at Tor/Forge’s Blog, they’re giving away an ARC of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings; it ends tomorrow! SQT at Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ is giving away both Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey and M. J. Rose’s The Hypnotist. As always, these are just the giveaways I’ve run across this week.

What’s your reading speed, and do you think reading speed has any correlation with getting the most out of a book?

11 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Reading Speed

  1. Non-fiction books ALWAYS take longer for me to read than fiction books, and I have no idea why. Maybe because I need to focus more on the info and so I read slower? And fiction books generally have less info to absorb and so I can just focus on the story instead? NO IDEA.

    • I have the same problem, and I think it’s just because nonfiction tends to be drier- that’s why we praise certain nonfiction as creative nonfiction because it includes novelistic elements. (For some bizarre reason, I always think of novelistic elements as cheese on a pizza- too little, and the main part, the bread, doesn’t go down as easily.)

    • Wow, that’s a lot! Hey, don’t worry about it- if you can’t make yourself slow down, you can’t. I knew a girl in high school who couldn’t make herself talk any slower than her usual fever pitch. Nothing wrong with that!

  2. I read the first half of a book at about half the speed as the second half. Then I get going in the story and start speeding through it. Obviously, I also don’t remember the plots of most books I read after a couple of weeks. I wish I could slow down and absorb more but luckily I’m also a re-reader which lets me catch more on the second or third read-through. I think reading speed is unique to each reader and there should be no competition between readers. We each take as long as we need/have to!

  3. I read fiction faster than non, usually about two/three days depending on the size of the book and how busy life gets. If I can get some good hours strung together on a weekend I can finish a book in a day or so. Some non-fiction can take me four/five days depending on the subject matter. I do get frustrated when I’m reading a book and it drags on though. I’m in that situation now. I’ve been busy and tired and reading has just been taking me longer since the brain doesn’t seem to want to play along.

    • Yeah- if I have a big chunk of time, I can usually do the same. (I was once trapped on an airplane and finished my novel before we even took off.)

      Sometimes you have to decide if it’s worth powering on through or not. I can’t, because I’m stubborn (I’m an Aries, what can I say?), but if you’re not enjoying it… I don’t know. Everybody’s different. 🙂

  4. I’ve only paid attention to reading speed in two instances. When I started participating in Sunday Salon, I found out that there are other bloggers who manage to finish two or three books a week. I thought of myself as a fast reader until then. When I have the book in my hand, I read pretty quickly but as a mom and an adult with a job I usually have to put a book down for a day or two to get to other stuff. I felt intimidated for a while, but now I’m over it :-).

    The other time that reading speed was brought to my attention was when my twin daughters were in 5th grade. C1 reads fairly quickly and scores high on the reading benchmarks. C2 scores slightly below her twin and reads so slowly it is almost painful. It broke my heart to see C2 crying when she got left out of a party that was a reward for reading a certain number of pages over the quarter. My feeling went from sad to annoyed when I noticed that C2 could remember many more details of the one book she was reading than C1 could remember about the many she went through. C2 also remembers books long after she’s read them, which is something that I can’t do. I decided that rewarding kids for reading speed isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

  5. I never notice my own reading speed unless I am reading something particularly dense, and notice that I’m no longer following the argument (or plot–but usually it’s with nonfiction). This can take an embarrassingly long time to sink in before I’ll go back and deliberately slow myself down, to make sure I’m understanding what’s being said. So sometimes my reading speed can be a nuisance but it is easy for me to adapt.

    Happy 300th post!

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