Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Five Simple Ways To Increase Your Reading Speed

With so many professional and personal reading responsibilities and desires it’s a wonder that any of us ever get through the pile of reading material we have to or wish to read.

Evelyn Woods Speed Reading techniques don’t work for me; I’m not much for scanning text with a finger or any other body part. But I still have to read an enormous amount of material each week.

What to do?

1. Listen to appropriately tempo’d music while reading. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is, and how effective it can be. I once read War and Peace likity-split while Flight of the Bumble Bee played in the background. The Rostovs, the Kuragins, the Drubetskoys, the Bezukhovs, and the Bolkonskys buzzed all over the Motherland, and Napoleon was in and out of Moscow before you could say Jacques Robinson. There was a bit of a mash-up, however, and at a certain point it seemed as if Sonya, Natasha, Prince Andrei, Pierre, Helene, and Denisov were attending an idiot’s orgy and I couldn’t tell who was who, where they were, or what they were doing. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves so I left it at that. I think that scene occurred during “Peace.” But maybe it was during “War.” Or a cease-fire. I dunno.

You must, however, always choose your music carefully. Last week, I started reading somebody’s blog post while listening to Mahler’s Symphony no. 5, and I’m still not finished. Chances are, I’ll still be reading this 500-word post next week; for all the beauty, listening to Gustav you’d think the man lacked a pulse.

Mood is important. 500 quarter notes a minute will speed you though text like a fart in a windstorm but if you’re reading an academic tract, a three-alarm fire by Sonic Youth is probably not going to do the paper justice. The allegro movement to Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony is a much sounder choice.

2. Procrastinate as long as possible. Then, when you’re down to deadline, begin reading. You will soon discover that your inner editor will slash and burn through the foliage and that the clear sunlight of prose strictly to the point will illuminate all. If, however, you’re detail-oriented, you’re doomed.

3. Read while traveling across the International Dateline, west to east. No matter what you’re reading, you’ll be finished yesterday, almost before you’ve even begun. I started reading Mailer's The Executioner's Song at dawn today in Tokyo and finished last night in San Francisco. How cool is that?

4. Dance. In concert with #1, read while doing the Shimmy, the Mashed Potatoes, the Frug, the Swim, the Slop, the Locomotion, the Twist, or any other dance-craze from the early 60s. These pas-de-deux are such that a partner is a completely unnecessary encumbrance and you can peacefully read.

But if you prefer reading dos-e-dos or call-and-response nothing’ll get you through the Old Testament like the Jitterbug. My choice: Chick Webb’s band playin’ Stompin’ at the Savoy. You’ll have a swingin' time as you get through Leviticus like Sherman through Atlanta, and Exodus will be a sprint through the Wilderness. That forty years? Forty minutes. That’s manna from heaven when you’ve got a shelf full of books to get to.

5. Finally, the most effective speed-reading method of all: Read while drinking water on a full bladder. Gone With The Wind will be gone in no time.

If you reach a crisis point during No. 5, switch to No. 4. That step may be involuntary, St. Vitus Dance of the kidney-challenged. Don’t worry about developing a stricture of the bladder sphincter. That’s the least of your problems when you’ve got to read and don’t have time to piss away.

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