I’ve recently noticed a number of apps devoted to increasing reading speed: here’s a review of a couple of them. Whenever I think about speed-reading, my mind casts back to a story I read when I was a teenager — a story I discuss in my book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Let me quote myself:
Consider a story by one of the great weirdos of American literature, R. A. Lafferty (1914-2002). It’s called “Primary Education of the Camiroi,” and it concerns a PTA delegation from Dubuque who visit another planet to investigate an alien society’s educational methods. After one little boy crashes into a member of the delegation, knocking her down and breaking her glasses, and then immediately grinds new lenses for her and repairs the spectacles — a disconcerting moment for the Iowans — they interview a girl and ask her how fast she reads. She replies that she reads 120 words per minute. One of the Iowans proudly announces that she knows students of the same age in Dubuque who read five hundred words per minute. (As Stanislas Dehaene explains, that’s pretty close to our maximum speed.)
“When I began disciplined reading, I was reading at a rate of four thousand words a minute,” the girl said. “They had quite a time correcting me of it. I had to take remedial reading, and my parents were ashamed of me. Now I’ve learned to read almost slow enough.”
Slow enough, that is, to remember verbatim everything she has read. “We on Camiroi are only a little more intelligent than you on Earth,” one of the adults says. “We cannot afford to waste time on forgetting or reviewing, or pursuing anything of a shallowness that lends itself to scanning.”
So you want to read faster? Are you sure?