In defense of reading slowly

I am a slow reader. While many of my friends, family and colleagues devour an outrageous number of books per month, I plod my way through a single work absorbing every word. I’ve been reading slowly as long as I can remember, far before I had any awareness of the slow movement.

Many factors slow my reading. I am silently reading aloud, hearing the author’s words in my mind’s ear. Also, if I come across a word I don’t know, I look it up. I then re-read that section of the text in search of new meaning. Sometimes, I even pause to write down a quote I particularly like. I also never skip a footnote. All these habits slow my reading speed. But is this really a problem?

After taking a basic online reading speed test, I discovered that I read at an average speed. So, I do not have an impediment to my reading speed. My choice of slow reading is likely just that – a choice or preference and not a reflection of my ability. Interestingly, research shows that speed reading methods largely do not work well as they sacrifice comprehension. I am not as alone as I thought. Many people admit to reading slowly and enjoying it.

“Reading is the quiet time in which you reflect and learn, it is not a race. It is where you teach yourself that which you don’t know—it is your time with some of the smartest (or at least different) people who’ve ever lived. This is not something to be rushed through, but enjoyed, savored and done deliberately.” – Ryan Holiday

Research also shows that reading slowly, especially during pleasure reading, has advantages.

Benefits to Slow Reading

  • Enjoyment: When we remove the pressure we put on ourselves to read a certain number of pages or finish a book in a short amount of time, we immerse ourselves more fully in the text and escape into a book’s pages.
  • Comprehension: Research shows that slow reading improves comprehension. In fact, that inner voice (subvocalization) that you hear while reading has an important role in word identification and comprehension.
  • Deeper understanding: Discovering subtext, or reading between the lines, can be lost with speed reading. Reading slowly can help you spot literacy devices such as symbolism or foreshadowing. Time is needed to enjoy all the levels of a book.
  • Stress reduction: Slow reading can reduce stress, especially if done in a quiet, distraction-free environment.

Other studies have shown improved attention span, better social-cognitive performance, slowing of memory loss and other benefits to slow reading. So perhaps we should not try so hard to read more and faster. Make consistency the goal, rather than quantity. Read at a pace that is the most comfortable and enjoyable for you.


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