Friday, January 09, 2009

462 Books Read in 2008




Sarah Weinman, a Los Angeles Times columnist, reads at an incredible speed, completing 462 books in 2008, in fact. I'm astounded when I hear of someone reading even 200-250 books a year, so 462 books in a single year is not a number I ever expected to hear - but the most amazing thing about that number is Sarah's explanation of how she does it (from the Los Angeles Times):




I've been trying to analyze my reading method to see why I've almost always been able to do this (well, I started reading at the age of 2 1/2; I don't think I was speed-reading back then, but I became aware I could read fast when I burned through eight "Sweet Valley High" books in one evening when I was about 9.) A lot of it has to do with my music background. I studied voice and piano fairly seriously during my elementary and high school days, and as such, I became very attuned to rhythm and cadence and voice. So what happens when I read is that I can "hear" the narrative and dialogue in my head, but what's odd is that I'm both aware of the book at, say, an LP rate (33 1/3 revolutions per minute) but in my head it translates to roughly a 78. I've tried to slow this down, but realized that my natural reading rhythm is freakishly fast when an author friend asked me to go through the manuscript of her soon-to-be-published book for continuity errors. I sat in the La-Z-Boy at my parents' house with a pencil, went through page by page making notes but also enjoying the book, and had the whole task done in about 3-4 hours. This was a 350-page manuscript too, so roughly 80,000 words. Take away the pencil and the editor's hat and the reading speed would probably be close to 90 minutes. What also seems to happen is that I read a page not necessarily word by word, but by capturing pages in sequence in my head. The words and phrases appear diagonally, like I'm absorbing the text all in one gulp, and then I move on to the next sequence I can absorb by paragraph or page. It's like I'm reading from a whole-language standpoint instead of phonics -- that's the only way I can figure out how to explain it.
The closest thing I've ever heard to something like this is the way a friend of mine, who has perfect pitch, describes the way she can always name the exact note she is hearing: she sees each individual note as a different color. She actually identifies each key by the consistent color she automatically visualizes in her mind every time she hears it. I'd love to have either of these talents but... of course I have neither.

14 comments:

  1. I have recently blogged about my reading speed as this year I have read 250 books but this quite stuns me. I find I 'see' the words rather than hear them and so have always read quickly. Delighted I am to have this facility I am not sure I could take over 600 a year. Would one ever run out of things to read? Probably not!

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  2. In 7th grade, we had reading class where the teacher projected a page of text onto a screen, then highlighted phrases rather than words to teach us not to read word by word. I read pretty fast now because I don't read every single word, but not as fast as this lady.

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  3. I'm just amazed by all of this. I'm such a slow reader. I can't imagine absorbing pages or even paragraphs at a time.

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  4. I want to earn my Ph.D in reading theory or something like that, so this is so fascinating to me. And my grubby bookworm side has a new superheroes...you can never have too many.

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  5. This is amazing, indeed. However, I can't help but think that something is missed when reading so fast.

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  6. Too bad there aren't 426 great books or even good books published every year. I plod along with my 40 books a year, but still have a difficult time finding worthy books to read.

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  7. That's a great talent with which to have been blessed, Elaine...and I agree - I don't think I would run out of things to read, even at 400+ books a year.

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  8. Factotum, do you enjoy reading at a fast pace as much as when you slow down and read at a slower one? It seems to me that I would feel a bit of stress reading as fast as some people do.

    BTW, is your blog lost forever?

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  9. Sean, I think that I probably read a a slightly higher than average pace but I read a whole lot, so the books add up. But the paces described by some readers will always amaze me and be beyond me.

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  10. Glad to be of service to your no-so-inner bookworm, Bybee...I forget what you named her. :-)

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  11. Lisa, that would be my fear, too, but I suppose that those who have this skill have overcome that problem by now.

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  12. I don't know, Tony...I do read some clunkers every year but I'm happy to have read the vast majority of them and can say that I enjoyed them in a number of different ways.

    Don't give up the chase...

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  13. Sam, it drives me nuts to read slowly. My husband reads (and retains) every word, but I just want to get the story. I will skip entire paragraphs of boring stuff that doesn't advance the plot (ie, the technical stuff about the submarine in The Hunt for Red October).

    Journalspace is gone and I am on blogspot now. I have recovered a lot of my archives via google, but not all of it. The moral of the story is to do your own backup.

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  14. My reading style is more akin to that of your husband, factotum. I literally read every, single word in a book if I read it at all. I'm always afraid that the very section I skip will hold the key to the hold book, be it fiction or nonfiction.

    And, especially since I write comments about everything I read these days, it would be dangerous, and potentially embarrassing for me to do otherwise...although I know exactly why you skipped lots of The Hunt for Red October.

    I'll have to find you on blogspot. Sorry to hear what happened to Journalspace. That kind of thing is an awful experience, as I sort of learned when my Blog here was locked up on me for a while last year. Glad to see you're still at it despite all the frustration.

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