Wake up, Polly Parrot.


How I Read
by Brian Plante

I don't read fiction the same way you do. I don't necessarily read any better than you do, but I almost certainly read different.

For one thing, I read a lot faster than most people. When I was in high school, I took a speed-reading course, and I've been following its principles ever since. I generally hold an index card in one hand and slide it quickly down the page as a pacing device. I don't speak the words silently to myself, don't reread sections, and don't get hung up if I miss the meaning of a word or phrase. I just plow through the text at high speed without interruption. I used to be faster when I was younger, but I generally read about a hundred pages of a typical novel in an hour -- some faster, some slower depending on the difficulty of the material and amount of attention it deserves. I usually finish most books in a few hours.

People who watch me slide my index card down the pages often don't believe I'm really reading that fast, but I am. It's a pretty good way to read light fiction. Even bad books are improved when you're not wasting days on them. Speed-reading can't really be done the same way for heavier reading like textbooks and deeper types of fiction, but I think speeding up for lighter fare still makes me go a bit faster on text that needs more attention.

Yes, I don't read fiction as deeply as some of you. I read mainly for story, and much deeper meaning is often lost on me when I'm reading very fast. Because of that, I can't really say if speed-reading is right for you -- that's a decision you have to make for yourself. It depends on what you want to get out of reading. If you enjoy the way the author puts words together, and look for deep meaning and enlightenment in what you read, speed-reading is probably not right for you. If you read primarily for entertainment, perhaps you could benefit from it. If you want to give it a try, you don't have to pay for one of those expensive classes -- there are many good books on the subject, and they all tell you pretty much the same thing. It's not hard; it just takes practice.

Another way I probably read differently from you is the fact that I read a bit more like an editor since I've begun writing. By that, I mean I don't necessarily finish reading everything I start. If a story or novel doesn't grab me in the first few pages, I usually speed up and skim ahead looking for something interesting to happen in the plot. If the story doesn't pick up, I drop it. Life is too short to waste reading boring stuff. I know there are certain writers who build a story slowly, and I must admit that I usually bail out on such stories. Some writers also put a lot of effort into crafting deeper meanings underneath the superficial plot, but that effort is often wasted on me. It's not them, it's me. That's the trade-off: I miss some things, but I get an awful lot more.

I also read a great number of short stories, which is something you probably don't do. Perhaps a bit more than half of my fiction reading is short work found in magazines and anthologies. Most people overwhelmingly prefer novels to short fiction, but not me. Maybe it's my short attention span, but I like the higher signal-to-noise ratio in short stories. It takes a bit more attention to read the equivalent number of pages of short fiction than a novel, since the settings, characters and ideas are introduced a lot faster, but it's not boring.

I don't recommend that you start reading like I do. As a writer, I hope my readers pay more attention than I do. I miss out and give up on a lot of fiction that others find very rewarding. While I can appreciate the artistry in well-crafted wordsmithing and deeper meanings, it's really the story I'm interested in. That's not necessarily the best way to do it, but it's how I read.

Copyright © 2001 Brian Plante

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