John Zinn, who has become a regular and very welcome visitor to Random, has asked how I manage to read so many books. The answer is simple: I am a very very fast reader.
I have always read very fast and it has caused me trouble on so many occasions, usually at school when the teachers did not believe I had read the set book or the text for a particular subject: 'Don't be silly how can you possible have read it and taken it all in?' was the usual response to 'Oh Miss I have finished it'. This drove me mental but there was nothing I could do about it. Back I went and re-read whatever it was just to keep everyone happy. In certain cases, this was no hardship. I studied Bleak House for my A levels and this book was, and still is, my favourite Dickens. I think it is simply magnificent and when I read it for the first time at the age of 16-17, I was so overwhelmed with it, I sat down and read it solidly in three days. Of course, the following week arrived at my Eng.lit lesson and received the full blast of my teacher's wrath who clearly thought I was telling a whopper and she told me to read it again. Well, no problem there, I did and loved it all over again.
She made the point that I could not possibly have taken it all in. I have re-read Bleak House many times since and of course, I had not taken everything it, you cannot do this on one reading, you cannot do it on many re-reads. I never claimed that I had, but that I had loved the text, given myself a good solid background to the story, became familiar with the characters etc and, then as far as I was concerned, the analysis and deep understanding would start when we sat down in class and went through it in fine detail. However, this was not good enough and I ended up being sent to the Headmistress for Reading Too Quickly and Being Insolent About it. Fortunately, the Headmistress was sympathetic and understanding and had a word with my teacher and she let it go. However, she got her own back later when she took my essay on Esther (surely one of Dickens's most die away, saintly heroines) and ripped it to shreds in front of the class and used it to illustrate my total lack of understanding of her character due to the fact that I had Read the Book Too Quickly. At the end of this session, when the rest of the class were sitting in stunned silence, I picked up my bag, my books and walked out of the class, out of the school and never went back.
You can see that this is something that still rankles with me all these years later and I am aware that this was an extreme reaction to a difficult person and a teacher who personally disliked me, but it meant that for years afterwards I kept my quick reading ability very much to myself.
I ended up working in the library system and there I was in clover. Surrounded by books all day long, cataloguing them, ordering them, shelving them, talking to our readers about them, total total bliss. Every Thursday night at one of the large central libraries I worked at, boxes of new books arrived and I and the assistant librarian fell upon these with shrieks of delight at all the goodies within. I used to snaffle the most requested books and take them home and was allowed to do so as John Reed (can still remember his name. lovely man) knew that I would have them back in 24 hours and I did.
One day a reader came into the library and we got chatting about reading in general and he said that he had been on a speed reading course as he found he had lots to read and peruse during his working life and needed to get through things more quickly. This was a three day course and at the end of it they had been given Animal Farm by George Orwell as their speed reading task and he was delighted to find that he could now read it in 45 minutes. I beamed at him and said how wonderful and did not tell him that I had read it in half an hour as I did not want to upset him.
So, whether reading quickly is a blessing or a curse, is a matter for debate. I have been a member of online reading groups, no more I might add except for one lovely friendly one, and was told off for reading too quickly and 'making everyone else feel inferior'. I left that group immediately and now that I live on my own with nobody to castigate me for getting through books too quickly, I can wallow and read as much and as fast as I like.
When speaking to somebody about this years ago, I was told that most readers, though they do not realise it, 'hear' each word as they read it. Fast readers such as I, 'see' the word rather like a quick scan, and therefore gain a nano second of speed on each word and as the words and the sentences build up, so does the speed. There is no explanation for why some people can do this and others cannot. Once I was sitting by the fire many years ago reading a book and turning the pages, totally unaware that one of my daughters was watching me closely, and she told me that my eyes moved so quickly that it made her feel dizzy. Again, totally unaware that this was happening.
At the end of the day, I regard this facility as a gift I thank heaven for on a daily basis even though it has caused me so much grief as well. It has to be used carefully. I deliberately make myself slow down if I feel I really really need to concentrate on a particular book, as it needs to be savoured and understood – this is usually the case with non-fiction which I do take longer to read, biography, history whatever. But I have to force myself to do it.
Give me a good, solid, fiction, a detective story, a light romance, adventure etc etc and I just relax into it and can get through a book in an hour or two depending on its genre.
I have to say that this causes me a great deal of trouble when going on holiday as I have to make sure I have enough reading matter with me. Just think how ghastly it would be if I ran out…. One such holiday my then husband kicked up such a stink as my suitcase was so heavy and when he opened it and found the bottom of the case was layered with books, one for each day of the holiday (14 days) he went potty. I also had a couple in my hand luggage just in case. This year I had a week in Turkey, a real lying around and doing nothing holiday and in the seven days I was there I got through 16 books (NONE of them great literature I might add) and had to resort to the hotel library with its collection of Grisham, Danielle Steele and chicklit which left me feeling slightly nauseous. No matter they were BOOKS and kept me going until I got home and onto my next fix….
Blessing or curse – what do you think?