Speed Reading Is The Ultimate Enemy Of A Well-Read Mind

800px-Instrument_Cluster_Porsche_Cayman_S_US_-_Flickr_-_skinnylawyer-150x150Dear Memorizers,

I’ve got the urge to wrangle a little with “speed reading.”

Although it’s true that I myself have taught a unique set of reading techniques that involve greater speed in Vol 1 of the Magnetic Memory newsletter, I mentioned these in the context of studying for exams and the like in your mother tongue, and not in a foreign language.

I also talk about “speed thinking” for generating enthusiasm about memorizing and getting the work done quickly, both in Vol 1 and in the Magnetic Memory books.

But is speed reading actually desirable?

Personally … I think not.

For one thing, even if you are cramming for an exam, you will probably do far better in the long run by understanding one book incredibly well as opposed to having a passing familiarity with a dozen books, the main points of which you were vague about in the first place due to skimming without a memorization strategy.

Second, I think the speed reading phenomenon stems in part from consumer culture. It’s a process in which consumption that matters more than ownership. I saw a video a while back created by a guy promising to teach you how to read a book a week this year.

Nowhere in the video did it mention what value this game of 52-pick up would bring. The skill was sold strictly as a numbers game and seemed to suggest boasting rights for being well-read.

But what good is it if you’ve read so much so fast that you can barely remember it all, if indeed any of it?

The whole speed reading concept brings me the image of a man who owned so many cars that even when he could figure out which one he wanted to drive, he couldn’t find it in his garage. And when he finally did find the desired car, there was hardly any space to maneuver it around the others and drive it out onto the street.

At least not without denting something precious.

And the things we spend our time reading should be precious, shouldn’t they?

Just imagine crafting a dedicated Memory Palace for each and every book you read and populating it with the main points of the book along with any details that simply bring you joy.

That would be time well spent.

But before I continue bashing this awkward art of ocular text munching, let me defend speed reading. I’ll toss it both my sword and my shield, if only for a second.

There’s no question that being “well-read” allows you to build connections that you cannot do without having access to a critical mass of intellectual material (just one reason that it makes sense to read as much material on memorization techniques as you can. No one book can tell you everything).

Plus, the more you’re well-read, the more you get to see variations of the same ideas and themes and the fifty shades of thought floating in the gray matter between.


I used to create this effect myself by practicing what I called “bibliomancy,” the art of pulling a dozen or so neighboring books from the shelf of my university library and scanning through them using my own version of speed reading that I offered in Volume 1.

(Actually, bibliomancy is better than speed reading because it tells you how to know what parts of a book to read quickly, and whether or not to read it in the first place.

So ends my defense of speed reading. It can now head off to Hoax Hospital for surgery and stitches.

Now let’s talk about slow reading, especially when it comes to vocabulary memorization.

One of the basic tenets of speed reading is that we suppress the habit of mentally vocalizing the words as we read them.

Why anyone would want to read writing words the words weren’t so beautifully arranged that you can savor every sentence, I don’t know …

But when it comes to reading in a foreign language … We want to savor the sound of every word.

We want to roll the words around in our mouths …

… and then amplify those sounds and the meanings they express in our minds.

When we are memorizing a foreign language, dear Memorizers, the language is the bowl, the words are the cherries, and the grammar is the whipping cream.

Gluttony will do you no good here. If you toss all that lingo goodness down your throat like a pig with his swill, it ain’t going to stick.

But if you take the time to savor the words and be present with them, absorb their music and visualize their form, they will easily enter into your carefully predetermined Memory Palaces with elegance and grace. And they’ll want to invite all their word friends as a result, bringing you that much closer to fluency.

And here’s the real kicker with speed reading: if you silence the voice in your head while reading, you are effectively silencing YOUR voice.

The same voice you want your ears to hear speaking your target language.

(And in your mother tongue for that matter, especially if you’re reading material filled with beautiful language).

Until next time, read something real slow and then teach someone else what you’ve learned about memorization. Teaching a skill is one of the best ways to learn it and helping people improve their memory is one of the best ways we can make the world a better place. The more we remember, the more we can remember. And the more we learn, the more we can learn.

4 Responses to " Speed Reading Is The Ultimate Enemy Of A Well-Read Mind "

  1. Shannon Fulp says:

    Came across this article and read it slowly. I know that it is an old article, but I wonder if your view of this has changed any after spending some time with Jonathan Levi?

    • Thanks for stopping by and this great question, Shannon.

      I’ve looked more into the history and science of speed reading since meeting Jonathan. However, my personal interest in learning it or changing my reading style hasn’t changed.

      Jonathan has been reporting lately his use of the Magnetic Memory Method for Memory Palaces and honored us all by featuing what looks to be an MMM influenced Memory Palace on the screen during his recent TEDTalk. I’m excited to see the recording.

      Anyhow, stay tuned for more on this. I think I may train myself in speed reading at some point in the future for some memory and language learning experiments. It’s an interesting topic worthy of deep exploration.

      Thanks again for your comment! 🙂

      • John Pearlstein says:

        I was just looking at Jonathan Levi site (due to your mentioning him). I began to look for speedreading books and naturally came to your blog to do a search. This was the first article I saw and after reading it and then reading that you were going to experiment with it, I must ask…. What were the results of your experiments and what are your current thoughts of speedreading?
        John Pearlstein

        • Thanks for this, John.

          I can’t say that my opinion is much changed and I still use bibliomancy. And since publishing this, Jonathan still practices and practices speedreading, but there’s a much greater emphasis on memory in Superlearner Academy than ever before.

          I won’t make the outrageous claim that I had influence over that, but it would be false modesty not to mention that we’ve had numerous conversations and worked together in different ways that probably left a mark.

          What are your thoughts about speedreading? What pain or frustration do you hope that it will solve for you?

          Thanks for posting and look forward to corresponding with you again further! 🙂

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