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I come from a family of bookworms. I remember when I was growing up, my sister and I would compete with each other over who was the faster reader. Now that I think about it, competing over who could read the quickest does seem a little bizarre. I’m guessing that that’s something only bookworms can relate to…
It seems that in our culture, the ability to read fast – or speed read – is viewed pretty highly.
I remember back in my uni days of being drawn to books claiming to teach speed reading. With mountains of dry readings to plough through, the idea of expertly speed reading seemed like a dream. Too good to be true? I wouldn’t know. I never did get around to learning how to ace the speed reading category.
But something I’ve noticed lately is that when I can, I really enjoy the opportunity to read something slowly. Perhaps it’s a sort of subconscious backlash at societal pressure to inhale copious amounts of information on a daily basis. Whatever it is, when I get a chance to sit down and really read something, I love it. Because if I’m reading something that I find interesting or thought provoking, I want to savour it. Like a glass of really good wine. Cliché? Probably.
Nevertheless, I don’t want to inhale my reading like I’m trying to gulp down a sandwich in a five-minute lunch break. I want to actually enjoy the experience.
And while speed reading might win in the popularity contest, experts point to slow reading as being highly beneficial. Laura Casey wrote an interesting article on the matter. Here’s an excerpt:
“Deep reading,” or slow reading, is a sophisticated process in which people can critically think, reflect and understand the words they are looking at. With most, that means slowing down — even stopping and rereading a page or paragraph if it doesn’t sink in — to really capture what the author is trying to say. Experts warn that without reading and really understanding what’s being said, it is impossible to be an educated citizen of the world, a knowledgeable voter or even an imaginative thinker.
I know for myself, my most coherent thoughts and opinions are often formed when I’ve facilitated deep reading in my own life. I sometimes wonder if the myriad of opinions spouted via social media would be a little more measured and objective if more people chose to cultivate deep reading in their own lives? Or perhaps I’m just too cynical…
Or perhaps when all is said and done, there really is no point in analysing how we read in the first place. Especially if you take the following advice:
Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. ~ P.J. O’Rourke.
Ok, I couldn’t help myself. But when I saw that quote, I just had to include it in this post. It really brings a unique perspective to the matter, don’t you think?
In all seriousness though, I’m still a fan of deep reading. However, deep reading can be easier said than done, particularly in today’s digital world where we can be surrounded by electronic devices each clamouring for our attention.
Authors Maryanne Wolf and Mirit Brazillai explain that we’re becoming a culture of “distracted” readers. And distracted readers don’t make for very deep readers. It’s rather ironic really. We have a wealth of information at our fingertips that we can access with just a few clicks (a perfect start for deep reading), but it is for this very reason that we’re easily distracted; because we have so much information accessible to us at any given time, the potential for being distracted is immense.1
I’d have to agree. I remember back in my primary school days, if we were instructed to research a topic, all we had to do was head to the library, open the card catalogue, and then go to the (small) section of the library where that information was. There was no three million related articles on the matter or advertisements or any of the usual distractions that present themselves whenever you try to google something.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet. I wouldn’t want to go back to the card catalogue days if you paid me. And yes, there is such thing as searching the Internet responsibly. Heck, you don’t even need to go through Google. In fact – on a side note – if you use a search engine like DuckDuckGo, it apparently won’t track you. So there you go. Now, what was I saying about being distracted? Oh, yes. I do think Wolf and Brazillai make a valid point about how easy it is to get distracted while reading and the subsequent difficulty this presents to the process of deep reading.
What about you? Are you a speed reader or a deep reader? Which would you prefer to be?
- Scherer, M (ed.) 2009, Challenging the Whole Child, ASCD Publications, USA ↩