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Speed readers.

I’m currently exactly half way through Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, which weighs in at a hefty 624 pages of small type. I’m hardly complaining—I love Tartt’s writing and I picked up this book without even paying much attention the jacket copy, enamored as I was with her first novel, The Secret History. Creepy and beautifully written, both of these books are completely engrossing.

I’m not here, however, to gush about Donna Tartt several years after she’s produced anything new. No, I’m talking more about the time it’s taken me to get even this far into a book I am enjoying immensely. I don’t know the exact number of days (I know it’s more than a week), but it’s embarrassing me. Not that anyone else in the world cares how long it takes me to read anything, unless I’m on a deadline or they’re waiting for feedback, but it’s a little pet peeve of mine that I can’t shake. It might have something to do with the teasing from my family when I was growing up if I took more than two days to read anything or it might just be that I’m used to doing things quickly—though I’ve been hearing consistently, from teachers and others, since I was eleven years old that I finish my work too quickly.

Obviously, I’m busier now than I was as a child, and if I get down to it, I can read just as quickly as I was ever able to, but it still irks me. There’s no rhyme or reason, and it’s actually quite nice for a novel that’s as compelling as I’m finding this one isn’t over so soon after I start, so I really should get over myself, right? As my sixth grade teacher scolded me, once, “just because you finish first, Rachel, it doesn’t make you the best.”

I suppose the only logical excuse is that there are so many other books out there waiting to be read, and if I don’t move quickly enough, I’ll never get to them all. That’s the excuse I’ll go with, and we’ll pretend I don’t have this silly hang up. What about you? Is it all about leisure or, do you begin to feel the pressure when a book has gone on for too long?

7 Responses to Speed readers.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Generally I find that if I’m taking longer than usual to read a book it’s because I’m persevering with something that I don’t really enjoy. Although last week I was reading a fairly short book “The end of everything” by Megan Abbott and that took me a pretty long time and I loved it. The prose was so haunting and beautiful though that it was like I couldn’t take too much of it at once. Kind of like the way you can only eat a little bit of a very rich dessert.

  2. Donn says:

    I’m somewhat similar – when I was a kid I used tear through books. We couldn’t drive home from the library before I’d finished half of them.

    And the faster I read, the sooner I wanted to be done with the story. I’d scan paragraphs and judge if they held any plot-relevant revelations – and if not, I zoomed right on. I’d leap through whole sentences or dialogues, only landing on the most significant words. I was a speed demon, I couldn’t wait to find out how it all turned out in the end, and then move on to the next.

    And now, all grown up? I feel I’m slogging through a book if it takes any longer than a few days to finish, but when I do my old quick-tricks I notice I’m missing out on all the value of what it is I’m reading anyway. I have to force myself to relax, and pay attention, and remember that I want to be savouring this book, not beating it.

    One reason ebooks are good: you can’t tell how much is left to go. That makes each moment so much easier to enjoy.

  3. Ryan says:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself :)

    I’m reading the Steve Jobs bio and it’s taking forever. Only because it’s so interesting. And I’m keeping the print small on my e-reader on purpose.

    And John Irving novels are like that for me, too.

    But other authors I speed right through. It all depends on the book.

  4. Hillsy says:

    Oh how I envy you!

    I have ADD so reading for me is like having all the words of another book spread amongst the ones on the page and someone forgetting to colour code them….and then trying to watch TV at the same time.

    It’s exhaustingly slow at times and consequently that much worse when the novel is so-so. The only reprieve is when you finally get into a cracker of a book, hyperfocus kicks in and everything else finally just drifts away. The payoff of that, however, is that reading speed increases from glacial to below average and you finish that much quicker.

    Still, saves me buying 2 more books a week I guess. Every cloud, eh?

  5. Lara says:

    Sometimes speed reading can be a curse. I have a similar tendency to read quickly, especially books that I love. I become so engrossed in the story and the characters that I tend to shut out the rest of the world (as much as that’s possible with children). Before I know it my escape is over. The book ended, resolution achieved, lovers united… and I’m wishing I could start all over again with the same “ending ignorance” as when I began.

    That’s why I read my absolute favorites over and over again – to pick up the details I hastily missed the first or second (or third) time through.

  6. Aonghus Fallon says:

    I picked up Donna Tartt’s ‘Secret History’ while staying with a friend and read it over the course of four or five days, mainly because I found the story so gripping. I tend to speed read very long books – I read LOTR and ‘War & Peace’ the same way, although it’s a very long time since I’ve had the patience and the stamina to tackle a really long book.

  7. Megan B. says:

    I’m glad you posted this. I love reading, but for some reason most books take me a while to get through. Unless I’m completely engrossed, I tend to read for only 30-60 minutes at a time. When I hear people say they tear through a book a week, it makes me feel like I am somehow doing it wrong. Can I be a book lover and take 3 weeks to finish a novel? But of course I know that everyone is different. And I’m sure it would help if I had a really cozy spot to sit and read, but I have yet to find one in my apartment.

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