I have long been aware that one’s ability to read books at a steady pace and to get ‘er done is not dependent on the speed of your eye movement or the amount of text you can take in at one time but rather is is directly related to how well you can focus your concentration. Naturally your comprehension and memory are also enhances by staying focused.

I was a senior in High School when I began to experiment with various methods of improving my reading speed. They even had a reading lab where you could pace your reading by having a mechanical shutter close-off sentences at controllable speeds. Everyone cheated, of course, the winner being the person attesting to the fastest reading speed. If I recall, there was a rumor that someone had reached supersonic speeds … but that was just for a paragraph or two that the machine presented in a limited fashion.

I remember trying to calculate the speed at which the pages would have to be turned in order to make such astronomical speeds possible.

A few years later at university a woman in my Blake seminar admitted that she was a student of the Evelyn Wood school of rapid reading. Now we all knew that reading the likes of Blake or Milton wasn’t a good match for speed reading, but this woman explained that with the speed reading method she could whip through the texts and rapidly build up an orientation that later made a more methodical method of re-reading that much more effective.


It made sense but at that time as a poor college student, the price of the Evelyn Wood course was more than tuition at the UC. Many many years later I uncovered a small book explaining the Evelyn Wood method and discovered it really held no magic. Reading still required dedication and focus.

Me: I paced myself and made copious notes right in the book! But I do agree that the trick is to simply re-read the original text and not to rely of secondary sources.

It’s unfortunate that just as my aged eyesight is getting squirrelly, the digital world has opened new vistas for increasing reading speed. Similar to those desktop machines back in High School, now you can set a digital text to scroll vertically and by setting the scroll speed you can challenge your eyes and brain to go faster and faster. But not so fast that you begin to lose track of the sense of the text.

Another method used is to flash each individual word of the text rapidly on the screen. I like this method because the text can be super big and you can make it fly by at amazing speeds. I use Marvin 3 as my e-reader of choice and it has a built in feature called Karaoke that performs this flash-word function (I started using it in stand-alone readers dedicated to the flash feature). I find that I read a bit faster since the program is pushing me, and it frees me from the mechanics of turning the page, even if electronically.

But there is an unfortunate artifact that pushes into my reading, reminiscent of those late nights reading long, tedious poems and drifting off to suck-down an imaginary bowl of rice pudding with sweet cream, cinnamon and my latest squeeze. When you are trying to focus on those words that flash by on the screen, you mind is still active in the background and periodically it triggers some junction in the mind that switches your concentration from the text you’re trying the read onto a secondary path where your imagination wants to go. Unless you’re really sleepy or otherwise impaired, you usually catch yourself before to long and it’s almost automatic that you jump back a few words and re-sychronize the text with your brain.


You might not even notice the interruption … if you are reading an ink and paper book!. But if you’re reading using the flash-word method, you can’t go back and it becomes easier and easier to drift off into an alternate narrative, losing complete track of the original text. If you are the type that remembers dreams, you probably remember the alternate text your imagination supplied on its tangent journey, if only for a few seconds.

I only have vague notions of what was going through my mind but just enough to leave me with an inkling of the way the mind is wired to follow and generate stories. Sometimes I’m more fascinated by the mental detour than I am by the published text.

Should I seek help?

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