Saturday, April 11, 2009


I don't trust speed readers.

It creeps me out when the main goal of reading a good book is how fast can you finish it.

I have a theory that a man so inclined would make a lousy lover. Myself, I like to pore over a chapter, linger lovingly on a passage or well-turned phrase, be touched by a stunning metaphor, or even roll a perfectly chosen word around on my tongue.

Hell, you can't do all that when you're zipping through a story at 1,000 words a minute. If you're an average reader, you cover maybe 200 words a minute, which is nothing to be ashamed of. But neither is ending a sentence with a preposition -- despite what your third grade teacher said.

Let's say you were speeding through a book by Mark Twain and you missed a classic line like: “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”

Or maybe in your rush to finish a book by Churchill you ran right over this zinger: “Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Not slowing down to enjoy the moment is like somebody telling you they're too busy to watch a gorgeous sunset sinking slowly down a sky of pinks and purples.

I can imagine two bookish speed freaks trying to outdo one another in a bar. The first one says, “I read War and Peace on my lunch hour.”

“Not bad,” says the other one, “I finished Moby Dick on my 10-minute break.”

When I'm reading a book that I own and not one from the library, I do something that many consider criminal, or at least of questionable taste.

I underline words and phrases and sometimes even whole paragraphs that I admire and want to save and look at later.

This act of “defacing” is done out of respect. And respect for something superb or exquisite shouldn't be hurried or skimmed.

Skimming, it seems to me, should be restricted to flinging thin flat stones across a calm body of water.


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