Speed Reading

I started listening to Jordan Peterson’s “Beyond Order” a couple days ago and it’s…well it’s a tough book to listen to as an audiobook, even about half an hour in.

One of the problems with dense audiobooks is that you can’t really pause to think. I mean, yeah of course you can. But unless your finger is just poised over the pause button it doesn’t really work. By the time I’m done thinking about a sentence, a paragraph has passed, and you can’t really (especially while driving, which is where most of my audiobook listening happens) rewind. So I end up listening to each 5 minute snippet 3 or 4 times if I’m paying attention.

But usually what happens is I get into a near meditative mental groove and just absorb what he’s saying as best I can. Sure, I’ll read it a couple/few times then listen to it again just to get my head wrapped around it.

The difference between reading/listening and writing is really strange. When you’re writing something, unless it’s straight-up stream of consciousness (which is something to evolve out of unless you’re just journaling) you structure things from a high level. EVEN if you don’t write it that way, editing requires that you go back and forth over the piece, zooming in and out to see the scaffolding either of the story or the points you’re trying to make.

Reading doesn’t tend to work that way and listening to the audio version of a piece of text definitely doesn’t. The normal method of consumption of these things happens in a one-dimensional time-linear fashion even though there is (or, ought to be) higher level structure.

So as a writer you have to craft your words such a reader is guided through said structure in a way that’s at least somewhat intuitive. And yes, this absolutely holds true for twist-a-plots, mysteries and reveals. Hell, especially so.

But as a reader, you aren’t really bound to consume the work that way.

This is one of the things about “Speed Reading” that falls through the cracks when even the semi-literate make the Woody Allen reference “It’s about russia” (concerning speed reading War & Peace.)

Speed reading is something you can decide to do and is a tremendously useful skill to have. You can get vast benefits from understanding the techniques, even if you’re not particularly good at it. It involves making multiple passes over a book, first as fast as you can turn the pages and just look at them to give you a high-level view of the structure, then again a little slower, and a little slower, until you’re actually blasting over words. Yeah it’s a bit more complicated than that. But hopefully you get the general point. A great book on the subject is “The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program” by Stanley Frank.

A well written book has aspects and flow to it that you’ll miss if you just read it front to back. A REALLY well written book has aspects and flow to it that you may be able to catch if you read it normally, but might not.

By scanning a book this way before really diving in you get to see where the author is coming from, what they’re trying to do, and then you can see how every word you read fits in to what they’re trying to say, the conclusions they’re drawing and such.

It’s an underrated technique and, combined with a commonplace book can really blow the roof off your comprehension and understanding of everything you read.

I urge you to try it. That Evelyn Wood book on amazon has currently “258 used copies available starting at $0.80.” There’s really no excuse.