Tag Archives: reading

banner w Photo by Universal Eye on Unsplash copy

How do you read so fast?

Do you ever have imaginary conversations with yourself? I found that I was doing that just now. I was explaining to myself how I can read 200-300+ books a year. As is so often the case, this came about completely randomly. I scrolled past this Instagram post:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Emma Hamm (@emmahammauthor)

And I thought, yep, there’s me the speed reader. But then I remembered passing this tweet a week or so earlier and thought, no that doesn’t really describe me:

Because I read fast, like really fast, but I can also tell you what color shirt Character A was wearing in chapter 11 and pick out underlying themes and tropes, etc. So, I’m obviously processing what I reading.

Someone on Goodreads once commented in a conversation “Wow, you’re a fast reader!” And then later complemented me with, “you assess the quality of books cogently and thoughtfully, and you have a very real, unaffected style of expressing yourself.”

goodreads challengesNow, I’ll preen under that praise in general (even if it was quite a while ago). But the point of including it here is the assessing the quality of books cogently and thoughtfully. I think I do that, but at a volume of 200-300 books a year. Admittedly, I don’t give every book an equally in-depth and deeply thought out review. But I am reading each book thoroughly enough to understand them on a fairly complete level and I do it very quickly.

The question I was pondering today was how. And I think I have an answer. Though I’m no neurologist (or whichever -ologist would specialize in this field), so what I think is happening in my brain may be way off base. And even if I’m right, there are probably far better, more accurate ways to describe it. But I’m going to try and describe it.

All credit where credit is due, my feet were put on this path by my husband. Earlier this year (maybe late last year, time has no meaning anymore) I was grumbling to myself and him. I’d been filling out an online form and done it wrong, which I do as often as not. And I said something  along the lines of, “I swear I didn’t used to be so bad at this. I have two Masters degrees for Christ’s sake. Surely I’m able to read a stupid form.” Very calmly, he said, “It’s because you don’t read.”

I blinked at him and went, “WTH, 300+ books a year says otherwise!” Now, I can’t remember every sentence that was exchanged, but the gist of what he said he’d observed me doing was that I don’t read a sentence by reading each word in that sentence (or instructions on a form). He was of the opinion that I read some of the words, maybe every third, and my brain simply fills in the rest—that I’m very good at extrapolating and filling in blanks. Predictably, I was incensed and responded, “I don’t do that!”

But as I paid attention over that next few days, I found that I kind of do do that. Maybe not that exactly, but some version of it. It explains why I can tell you what color shirt Character A is wearing in chapter 11, but 10 minutes after I finish a book I often can’t tell you the main character’s name. Because I don’t read “Sarah wore red.”  My brain just filled in my mental place holder of Sarah and red.” I’m not wholly visual. So, I’m not claiming to have a full cinematic picture in my head, but that my brain gleans the information without acknowledging the letters making up words. Does that make sense?

And this even kind of makes sense when I think about being a child learning to read. I had a very, very hard time learning to read. I got pulled out of normal class for remedial reading lessons at school, my grandma bought me Hooked on Phonics (anyone remember those), my mom worked with me everyday after school. I really really struggled to read. And this lasted long enough and I was old enough that I actually remember the visceral feeling of it all finally snapping into focus and understanding at last.

I call it my Helen Keller moment. Certainly, it’s not as dramatic as someone who was blind and deaf finally making a connection with words and meaning.

But it is a stark and true moment in my mind. In my imagination, something physically snapped into place and I understood something that hadn’t seconds before. And after it did, within the same school year, I was moved from the remedial lessons to the advanced.

When I discuss those early years with my mom, she laughs and says, “Lord, you were as dyslexic as the day is long.” Now, I don’t think there really is any such thing as “were dyslexic.” I’m fairly sure you either are or you aren’t and it’s a constant. I think what she’s getting at is that whatever normal pathway a child’s brain forms when learning to read, mine just couldn’t. There was an impediment of some sort. I imagine a road that normally follows a straight line, but in my case had to curve around a bolder. It took longer because it had to find and forge a new way. And because of that, the scenery is also a little different than other people’s. My ‘reading’ doesn’t work exactly like other people’s ‘reading.’ When my brain couldn’t make it work the ‘right’ way, it found an alternative way.

This is where an -ology would come in handy. I have no idea if that’s accurate. But it’s how I imagine it. And if the way my mind found was to read the parts of a sentence that make sense and fill the rest in (and to have gotten really good and accurate at it over time), well that makes sense to me too. As does being fast because it’s not reading/processing each individual word. And predictably, it works a lot better with fiction than forms.

None of this is something I do purposefully. It’s just how I read. I don’t know any other way to do it. I literally don’t know how to slow down.

So, there’s my totally random, possibly ill-conceived rambling post for today. Enjoy.

2021’s Reading Round-Ups

I started doing monthly reading round-ups about halfway through last year (2020) and I’m enjoying them, so I’m going to carry the practice over in to 2021. I’ll bring them all here, so they’re in one place and easy to find.

11 Things I Learned About Being a Bookworm by Living With a ‘Not-a-Reader’

I organized my bookshelves this weekend. For me this is big time drama. There are so many decisions to make. What order to put them in? Which have earned the right to prominence on the actual shelves and which have to be consigned to hidden niches among the dust bunnies and dog fur? Which to get rid of? When to read the ones that have to go, because giving away an unread book is a sin in my world. The struggle is real, people.


And I can’t even with my children’s shelves. OMG, I can feel the twitches coming on just thinking about it. I order them; they disorder them. I order them; they disorder them. This is a pretty regular cycle in our world. Maybe I shouldn’t buy them so many books. *<.< side-eyes that idea*

Children's shelves

But when my husband later asked what I’d done with my day and I proudly answered, “I organized the bookshelf” (Notice how now it’s the bookshelf, not my bookshelf? This is a small dishonesty I allow him to believe. It’ a form of kindness.) and he was devastatingly unimpressed, I had a revelation. He doesn’t get it. He has no idea why this lights me up and makes me happy. (Because drama and decisions be damned, I love playing with my books.)

So, what makes him different, I asked myself… what makes me different? Well, I am an unrepentant bookworm. He is not. I don’t mean he doesn’t read. He does occasionally. I think he maybe even enjoys it, on those rare occasions he dedicates himself, over months, to finishing a book. But it holds the same place of importance in his world as, say, swimming. Which he does with the kiddos a couple times a summer, or playing computer games. Which he loves in theory but almost never gets around to doing.

I however live to read.  It is THE primary (non-chore) activity in my day-to-day life. I would (and often do) forgo almost every other activity in order to finish the book I started that morning. And until I began living with someone who didn’t live this way, it seemed absolutely normal. On further consideration, I realized that there are a number of things I learned about my perception of self by comparison to him, a normal non-obsessive-reader person.

I considered making this post a fictional account from the perspective of the non-reader—11 Things I Learned Living With a Bookworm—but that wouldn’t really have been me, so it’s 11 Things I Learned About Being a Bookworm by  Living With a Not-a-Reader.

  1. Hoarding books is not the norm? Apparently, non-bookworms don’t cherish every page they own, even if they didn’t like the book. They think nothing of tossing the text when they’re finished, or even (gods forbid) if they didn’t.
  2. Having marked off over half the books in Emma Beare’s 5011419462 Must-Read Books isn’t considered impressive? Aiming to read them all eventually is just a random, shrug-worthy goal. Keeping this book for years, just for the occasional joy of marking a book out of the index is weird and maybe obsessive. Planning to get a new version when your done, because new books have probably made the list since you bought your copy in 2007, garners an eye-roll from the non-reader, normal person.
  3. Not-a-readers don’t care what order their books are on a shelf? Apparently, a bookworm’s need to have an understandable system, even if it changes regularly, is odd. They also obviously aren’t driven bat-shit crazy by random stuff, like tangled headphones or unopened mail, that gets tossed on them as if they are any other openly available flat surface.
  4. Books aren’t decorations in the not-a-bookworm’s world and a bookworm’s desire to decorate with them is often unfathomable.
  5. The ability to sit in sloth-like stillness for hours, while entire worlds unfurl in your mind is not an admirable skill? It’s, like, lazy or something.
  6. A book isn’t meant to be read cover-to-cover in as short amount of time as possible, preferably one day, so that there are no interruptions in the experience? Apparently, this is something only bookworms feel is important and not-reader, normal people think is gluttonous.
  7. reading goal as of 4/7/16Reading 300 or so pages in a day is not a reasonable expectation, nor is 300 books in a year? Not-obsessive-reader people often find these numbers shocking.
  8. Coming to the table for meals and discussing something other than the characters or subplots of the book you’re reading is considered good manners? A bookworm’s need to share what they’ve just spent six hours immersed in is somewhat off-putting to the not-a reader, normal person.
  9. Forgoing human interactions and declining social invitations in order to finish a book is considered rude? Some bookworms are apparently seen as antisocial in the non-literary world.
  10. Reading a book quickly and being able to pull out and discuss themes, genre expectations and tropes are apparently, under non-bookworm conditions, considered anathema?
  11. I never, ever want to have to live as a normal, not-a-reader person. Being a bookworm, for me, is important and gratifying. It is a way of life that I choose.

It’s this last point that was brought home to me most saliently. I could choose to not be a bookworm, which conversely means I choose to be one. I have an uncle in his late 60s, who I would characterize as a reader, maybe even a mild bookworm. He is loosing his eyesight. He’s facing the question of bothering to learn braille or if audiobooks will be enough to sustain him. He is living my nightmare, but it seems to me he is also facing the choice of whether to remain a bookworm or to move on to other forms of self-identity.

Bookworm is a way of life. Perhaps there are better names for it, but this is the one I decided on. This is the label I choose for myself. No matter what the normal, not-a-bookworm person thinks of me (us), no matter how odd or off-putting they find some of my (our) habits, I find it something to be proud of. I don’t want to live in a world where books have no order, or can sit partially read for months on end, or where going to a movie is preferable to snuggling up with a book. I don’t want to be a not-a-reader, normal person. I live at one end of the reader extreme and I plan to stay here.

Tere is a certain freeing aspect to recognizing this. I am a bookworm and if you’ve finished this post, you probably are too. Welcome to the community.