Surprised by the dust on all those books you ‘just bought’ but haven’t gotten to yet? To-be-read pile threatening to topple and crush you under its weight? Tired of being left out of conversations about authors you haven’t read yet? Me too. All of this is common enough for any bibliophile, to varying degrees or another, and its nice that we can commiserate. That is, most of us can, but not all of us, for there is a strange breed that lives among us with the book-lover’s equivalent of superpowers — the hyperspeed reader.
Case in point, Sarah Weinman, columnist and reviewer for the LA Times online, read 462 books last year. That’s Four Hundred Sixty-Two. By any stretch of the definition, that’s a lot of books, and over qualifies Weinman for my rule-of-thumb classification of a hyperspeed reader: someone that averages more than a book a day. You can read an interview with Weinman about her remarkable feat over at the LA Times ‘Jacket Copy’ blog column.
Not being one of these hyperspeed readers, I am of course insanely jealous. I mean , I dedicate an enormous amount of time to reading, but my best run doesn’t even come half-way to matching Weinman’s year. However, resigned as I am that I can never match it — I just don’t think those sort of savant-level abilities can be trained in mid-life, if at all — the temptation is to, of course, analyze what she’s doing and conclude that she isn’t really enjoying those books fully, isn’t immersing herself in the joy of language and richness of an author’s style when she moves so quickly through each book. But I can’t really believe that, not based on what she’s said in her interview, and not based on anything other than my own naked envy. So, just what is it Weinman and the other hyperspeed readers are doing?
A few weeks ago I blogged about keeping book lists, and I hinted a bit at ways to build your reading muscles — book lists being one way to stoke the fires of enthusiasm and provide a framework for targeted reading (as well as being just fun to do). And Weinman’s description of her own reading ability reinforces something that I have also experienced, only she practices it at a far more extreme degree than I ever could. And that’s reading chunks of text divorced from sound.
What Weinman, and perhaps other super readers based on many of the comments at the end of the interview, can do is read large areas of text at once. In her own words:
What also seems to happen is that I read a page not necessarily word by word, but by capturing pages in sequence in my head. The words and phrases appear diagonally, like I’m absorbing the text all in one gulp, and then I move on to the next sequence I can absorb by paragraph or page. It’s like I’m reading from a whole-language standpoint instead of phonics — that’s the only way I can figure out how to explain it.
Weinman credits her musical education at an early age with helping attune her to cadence and rhythm, which almost seems paradoxical when you consider she is ‘reading without sound’ — that is absorbing text unrelated to the phonetics of the words. She also remarks that her brain seems to speed up the input she is getting, like switching a record from 33 ⅓ to 78. Somehow she’s appreciating the vital rhythm of language without hearing each word — which isn’t too surprising when you consider most of us who read beyond a certain speed must be doing the same thing. We just don’t do it anything like as fast as Sarah Weinman.
Which brings me back around to developing one’s reading muscles. While I strongly suspect no one can transform themselves from normal reader into hyperspeed reader, I know from experience that there are ways anyone can read faster without just skimming or skipping over text. I’ll talk about my own take on those next week, but I will say two things on that subject up front: my techniques are neither revolutionary nor systematic as they amount to essentially to just making yourself read faster, and reading for information retention and reading for fun are separate but overlapping spheres of experience and therefore you have to approach reading speed based on your goals and intentions.
And to answer the question posed by the title, ‘How to Read 462 Books a Year?’ Easy — be Sarah Weinman.
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.