If my reading rate falls below 80 words a minute, will the book explode?

Eadward Muybridge's "The Horse in Motion" (1878)
It took me about six hours to read the 332 pages of The Fear Index, but in the same amount of time I've only read about 120 some pages of Wolf Hall. It goes to show, I suppose, how much writing style makes a difference to how fast one can read. While The Fear Index is a thriller and written to keep readers turning the pages until way past their bed time, Wolf Hall is historical fiction and written in a literary style. (When I finish the book and write up my review, I will have words to say about why its important to make sure your pronouns have clear antecedents.)

The sharp contrast between the experiences of reading these two books had me reflecting on how fast I read. Should I slow down and savor the language? Is there such a thing as reading too fast? Am I reading so fast that, like Muybridge's horse, I'm not even touching the ground? When I read, when I'm really into the book, I'm not really aware of taking in every word--and yet I still understand what's going on. (But with something like Wolf Hall, I can't do that because the writing is so disjointed.)

The thing about slowing down is that, if I think too much about the fact that I'm reading, my neurons start to stumble over themselves and I lose my connection to the story. It's like being aware of your breathing. If you think about it, you lose the whole rhythm of the thing.


  1. Insightful. I've been wondering about reading speed for a few weeks now. I've recently started reading again at a voracious rate. I used to read a book a day (small books compared to the gargantuan novels of now) and I've noticed that my speed is increasing again. The breathing of reading is becoming less congested. Practice along with reading matter choices is perhaps another factor. Your speed is probably greater on the more literary works than my speed would be not only because you've practiced reading for so long, but you've also practiced reading literary works. Just my rambling thoughts. - JLS

  2. Thanks for commenting, Jenny! You're probably on to something about practicing, and I read more than anyone else I know. I'd take a break to test the hypothesis, but I don't know if I could give up reading for so much as a week. :)


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