Tackle your reading list by learning how to speed read

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/11/01/tackle-your-reading-list-by-le.html


Ah, speed reading instruction…which we can trace back to Evelyn Wood.

The best-known educator of the 20th century was a scammer in cashmere. “The most famous reading teacher in the world,” as television hosts introduced her, Evelyn Wood had little classroom experience, no degrees in reading instruction, and a background that included cooperation with the Third Reich. Nevertheless, a nation spooked by Sputnik and panicked by paperwork eagerly embraced her promises of a speed-reading revolution. Journalists, lawmakers and two US presidents lent credibility to Wood’s claims of turbocharging reading speeds through a method once compared to the miracle at Lourdes. A royal-born Wood grad said she’d polished off Moby Dick in three hours; a senator swore he finished one book per lunchtime. Fudging test results, and squelching critics, Wood founded a company that enrolled half a million. The course’s popularity endured even as science proved that her system taught only skimming, with disastrous effects on comprehension. As apps and online courses attempt to spark a speed-reading revival, this engaging look at Wood’s rise from missionary to marketer exposes the pitfalls of wishful thinking.


While I hate to quote Woody Allen…

I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes…

It involves Russia.


Must be a slow news week; there’s been twelve store ads since this time last week. But on the bright side, not one for Vaping, so that’s a bonus.


Weird how speed-reading has become so conspiratorial. Speed-reading is definitely a thing, the human brain has the power to convert images of words directly into meaning. (Some of us convert words into sounds, then sounds into meaning. Sometimes out loud, sometimes entirely in our heads. But either way is totally unnecessary.) And yes, you can use your finger, the eyes’ natural movement is not well suited for reading.

And ‘skimming’ is a good study skill. It’s part of the trick of reading the book several times to maximize learning. Read chapter headings the first time through, section headings and pictures the second time, and speed-read for real the third. When reading for knowledge, you want to spoil the ending as soon as possible.

Now is this particular bundle any good? Well, the fact that it’s a ‘bundle’ is silly, and that it’s presented as lectures is also silly. And most of all, I just gave away the most important points above.

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If you read slowly and hear the words in your head, you could double or triple your reading rate, assuming the material was comprehensible at that rate. But you wouldn’t want to do the with poetry or prose where hearing the text is part of the reward.

I went on a speed-reading course at school, almost fifty years ago. It is a mixed blessing. The ability to search a huge volume of stuff for a keyword or ‘important bit’ has been valuable for work; but it has left my brain with a permanent tendency to slip into top gear, and skim 50 pages of a book without enjoyment.




There are some authors who can write 50 pages of a book without enjoyment, so it’s still a useful skill to have.


You sound . . .


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Boingboing one year ago…



This ought to be a BBS badge and I’d like one.


Slow reading is definitely better than speed reading.

But sometimes you gotta cut through 50 pages of soporific drivel and get down to the fine points.


i prefer quality over quantity. critical thinking while active reading is a crucial skill that needs to be taught, rather than how fast did you skim over something, how about what did you take from it? one could spend a lifetime with certain books.

one thing speed reading courses teach that is valuable, is the quick extraction of major points. the skimming of table of contents and first and last chapters and paragraphs and sentences. the speed passes may miss all the details and nuance, but they can get you a quick 10000 mile perspective when needed.

to really truly engage with a story with your imagination is a totally different thing, where the pace of the story is what drives the reading speed, the words disappear altogether. the pleasure of reading and disappearing into a book is one of the better ones.


Most definitely. I come to BoingBoing for the ads after all.


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Speed reading is a thing in the same way that having a Charles Atlas body is a thing: the ads for both tend to exaggerate what you can actually achieve using the dubious methods of their program.

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