I've mentioned before that I'm not a fast reader. As I said back last year, I'm a 30-pages an hour man!

Bookninja recently posted on the merits of slow reading (more on Slow Reading over on John Miedema's blog -- thanks Dave!) noting Michael Henderson's mild mocking of Philip Hensher who reckons he reads five novels a week, something I probably manage in a good month:

What a relief it was, last year, to learn of Milan Kundera's opinion that he based his reading on the premise that he got through books at the rate of 20 pages an hour...

Good to know that me and my mate Milan are on the same page. Literally, on the same page, near the beginning, whilst the rest of you have no doubt almost finished!

Readers Comments

  1. I'm always shocked when I hear that someone's plowed through a difficult read like Lolita or The Wide Sargasso Sea in just a few days. Didn't they read the annotations, look up any difficult words, reread any particularly mellifluous or torturous passages? We need to respect the work enough to read it well, like it deserves to be read. More of us should be slow reading, not just hammering through novels in some derranged show of literary athleticism.

  2. I don't consider 30 all that slow. I know several people who can only read 15 an hour at the maximum, and I knew an English grad student who could manage...4. And was studying 19th century novels. She never slept.

    That said, whenever I've asked someone who reads several books a week what books they like, I rarely get answers like Joyce or Musil. Think of all the terrible books Hensher must have read over the years! It's enough to pollute one's mind.

    I heard somewhere that Harold Bloom reads 300 pages an hour. Urban legend?

  3. Waggish, I think it does pollute your mind, and that life is too short to waste it on speed reading boring stuff. There is a marvellous and very humorous essay by Australian writer Gerald Murnane in his collection Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs, entitled 'Some books are to be dropped into wells, others into fishponds', where he discusses the problem of the books one has read (probably too damn fast) and forgotten.

    I feel better about averaging 30-40 pp. now! thanks! and not quite so bad about forgetting something absolutely crucial whilst trying to read a novel faster the other week, then realising I had ruined it for myself when I got to the climax. I cannot go back and read it in the same way again, now knowing what I overlooked. That'll teach me.

  4. 30 pages a hour? I'm normal!

    When I was a PhD student at Salford in the early 1990s, I found that I could read about 40 pages of an ordinary book (fiction or non-fiction) during the commute from Preston to Salford Crescent, but about 80 pages of a science fiction one. Which says something either about me or science fiction.

    I've recently come to suspect that some people who claim very fast reading reading rates manage this through skimming and skipping. It's got to be *every* word.

  5. Terryifyingly I have just discovered that I posted almost exactly the same reply to the Mark's first discussion of this issue. I've got to try and get out of the rut. Or get a better memory. Worringly, my recollection of my reading rate in the early 1990s seems to have doubled in the last year: as I recall now, I could manage about 20 (non-sf) or 40 (sf) pages of a book on each *leg* of the journey.

    I'll go and have a lie-down now.

  6. Sophie of DAP Tuesday 01 April 2008

    Mark, M Kundera's Slowness - don't know what the Faber translation is like, probably excellent, was a key moment in my appreciation of both Kundera and slowness in art. (La Lenteur was given to me by a friend's mother in 1995 and read several years later, with such pleasure.)

    see ya soon


  7. A 2009 book on this topic is John Miedema's Slow Reading. Chapter 2 of that book is online, if you are interested:

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