I’ve had several encounters with speed reading, my first at the age of 15 when I watched an infomercial of the Mega Speed Reading course by Howard Stephen Berg, and my most recent while listening to an interview with Harold Bloom, who complains about the fact that he used to be able to read a 1000 pages per hour, whereas now, as a grumpy old man, he can only read at half his former speed. To wit, that’s one page every 4 seconds (or 8 seconds, respectively). An average page contains approximately, what, 500 words? Young Harold, in other words, read a whooping 12,500 wpm (words per minute) coupled with a near-perfect comprehension rate. M.H. Abrams supposedly said that Bloom “[…] had that extraordinary ability to read a book almost as fast as you can turn the pages, not only to read it but to practically memorize it.” Should we call bullshit on such extraordinary claims, or are there indeed ways to improve our reading speed? And I’m not referring to “smart reading”, e.g. perusing the table of contents first, paying attention to the first and last sentence of a paragraph, etc., but about changing the physical reading process.
In English, my current reading rate is ~250-350 wpm with, I would guess, 60-70% comprehension rate. Yet I experience my reading as rather cumbersome and exhausting (similar to my writing, in fact), and I’m willing to experiment with some of the techniques suggested by speed readers not the least because I believe a boost in speed would make reading easier and much more pleasurable. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m able to dwell on details and read slowly, but I suck at comprehensive reading, that is, assembling the details into a substantial whole.
Now then, the techniques. YouTube hosts an instruction video for beginners. The idea is not to let your larynx interfere with your reading. The reason I’m willing to give it a shot is mainly because of testimonials outside the speed reading course circus, for example:
I have taken speed-reading training in high school (nearly 40 years ago!) And following that training I was a near-page-at-a-glance reader.
The techniques in which I was trained seemed to focus on training you to take in several words at a time and forcing you to quit “hearing” the words in your head–the mental equivalent to “moving your lips while you read.” (Some speed reading techniques suggest that you hum while you read to short-circuit subvocalization.) […] The result? The faster I read, the more I retained. This was reading the full text, not skimming, as verified by the content-based tests taken at the finish of the reading. (source)