avatarJim Farina


How a Self-Proclaimed Slow Reader Finishes One Hundred Books Yearly

Author Ryan Holiday has some excellent advice to help you do it, too

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

“The road to knowledge begins with the turn of a page.” ― Abby Marks Beale, author of 10 Days to Faster Reading

I was shocked that prolific writer and author Ryan Holiday is a slow reader. At least, that’s what he says in this article. He declares that one of his goals is to read one hundred books yearly.

People assume that Holiday is a speed reader based on the many book recommendations he lists in his newsletter. Not only does Holiday claim to be a slow reader, but he purposefully reads at a slower pace.

The truth is, even though I read hundreds of books each year, I actually read quite slowly. In fact, I deliberately read slowly. But what I also do is read all the time. I always carry a book with me. Every time I get a second, I crack it open. I don’t install games on my phone — that’s time for reading. When I’m eating, on a plane, in a waiting room, or sitting in traffic in an Uber — I read.

We don’t have to read with superhuman speed to get through more books

We want to read faster, but we want to retain more of the information we read. I have some good news for you. It’s much easier than you think, starting with shedding bad habits.

The book 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute explains how we can increase our reading speed in just a few minutes each day. Yes, as many people might imagine, it doesn’t take months and years of intense training. It’s a matter of practicing a few simple techniques.

So much to read, and so little time

I have a short stack of books on my bedroom nightstand. Some of them have been there for months. I dust them off now and then. It’s a pile of books I aim to get through eventually.

I also have an e-reader. That device also has an increasing queue of titles that are mounting up faster than I can ever read them.

My goal, of course, is to get through all of them at some point. But another title intrigues me, and it goes on the never-ending list.

The author suggests we select and prioritize what’s important — don’t feel we need to get through all of it. We also need to get out of this thinking that we must remember everything we read.

This is a misconception many of us picked up while in school. It goes back to the pressure of retaining as much as possible from our textbooks in preparation for the material that might come up in an exam.

Forget about it. And I mean that quite literally — because you will forget most of it. According to The Princeton Language Institute, memorized material is stored in your short-term memory and forgotten after a few days. It’s recommended that we create an easy retrieval system.

Write down the crucial information to be remembered

You might include brief notes in the margins by writing them down — if it’s paper. If it’s electronic text, there are built-in provisions for including notes or comments. This information can be filed away and retrieved later. It takes the pressure off memorizing everything.

Purge some bad habits.

First, let’s look at some everyday bad reading habits and then a few helpful tips on fixing them. Passive daydreaming is a big one for me and a common problem for many.

The more creative you are, the more plagued you will be with ruminating on other topics — unrelated to what you’re reading.

Author Abby Marks Beale says our goal should be to turn this noodling into active mind wandering. That thinking links the information we’re reading to our own experience. In other words, we work to bridge various types of knowledge — what we already know and the new information we are learning. It’s a way to steer the mind in a single direction.

For example, if I’m reading about famous music composers’ lives, I might steer my thoughts to my trip to Vienna, Austria, some years ago, home to some of the world’s great composers. The mental connection acts like a “brain glue” to which new information can adhere.

Avoid regression in reading

I’m the kind of reader who can’t have any background distractions such as television, loud music, or conversation while reading. I find myself rereading the same text over again. It’s both inefficient and frustrating.

A way to avoid regression is to cover the text you’ve just read with an index or business card, allowing just enough space for the line you’re reading. It might be worth reviewing the material if you have difficulty grasping the author’s meaning or come across words you don’t comprehend.

Stop subvocalizing

Reading every word as though it is being spoken aloud in your head is called Subvocalization. Typically, the brain can process up to about four hundred words per minute.

When we read at talking speed, we are processing about one-hundred-fifty words. If we can get out of the habit of subvocalizing, we’ll be able to process more than twice as many words per minute.

It takes a little time to unlearn bad habits, so be patient with yourself. Begin by focusing on the more significant “keywords” and skip over the rest.

Our eyes are sophisticated tracking machines and can fill in more information than we realize. Think of reading more like watching a film on-screen and taking in more at once.

Rhythms are also a great strategy to help pick up the reading pace. The author suggests humming, mumbling, or chewing gum while reading. The subtle noise rhythms help speed you up.

Usher in some good habits

Can we talk about the fly in the room? This pesky insect illustrates an excellent example of how our eyes notice it immediately, even if it’s not in our direct line of vision. Similarly, our eyes will naturally track a moving finger over a page of text in a book.

For many of us, this was an instinct when we were children learning to read. I recall using my finger or some other object, such as a bookmark, to help pace my reading and better understand the words. So why do so many of us abandon that practice once we know how to read?

Using your fingers as a pacer

Place your fingers either to the left or right of a line of text, and as your eyes read across the line, slowly move your fingers steadily down toward the bottom of the page.

If it’s a narrow column of text, like the print in many newspapers and magazines, the author recommends positioning your finger in the center of the paragraph, just under the line you are reading.

Move your finger straight down or in a snake-like pattern while reading across a line. At the same time, cover the text you’ve already read with a business card, as discussed earlier, to avoid regression.

Practice these techniques regularly until they become second nature. Resist the old habits of regression reading and Subvocalization. At the same time, foster good habits like using a pacer and reading only the keywords. Give yourself a break every 30 minutes so your brain and eyes can rest.

Like building any new habit, these methods might initially be unnatural and uncomfortable but think about when you first learned to ride a bicycle. It’s much the same as with those training wheels. You can soon let them go once you get the hang of it and speed away confidently.

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Reading Books
Speed Reading
Ryan Holiday
Self Improvement
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