The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading: A Book Review
I’d seen the late night infomercials offering to help you learn the secrets to speed reading with a comprehensive program (and 4 payments of $9.95). What I hadn’t seen was an affordably-priced book that outlined the basic techniques for anyone to learn. That’s why The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading by Abby Marks Beale caught my eye. I was pressed for time, loved to read, and dug the concept of improving my stats as an already quite-efficient skimmer for less than $15. Here are some thoughts on what this book offered:
What is your current level? The first thing I picked up was how far off the mark I was on defining “speed reading.” The average reader can read (and comprehend) between 200-300 words per minute. The above-average reader clocks in at over 300 words per minute. The excellent reader can devour 700+ words. Surprisingly, your current speed does not in itself determine your aptitude towards speed reading. (In fact, many excellent readers could be slowed down by some of the more common speed reading techniques.)
How much do you really see? This book tackled issues like peripheral vision and predicting what would come next (before your eye even had to glance at it.) This helped me to realize that much of speed reading is not what your eye does, but what your brain can do. Many thinking exercises are included in this book to help you see patterns in your logic, which can be used to tweak your reading skills.
Do you understand? Reading is one thing. Comprehension is another. This book gave me tremendous insight on how to understand and retain what I was reading. It gave tips for preventing me from going back to check my understanding. I developed some confidence in what I understood the words to mean. (This was key to speed reading.)
Paper or plasma? The best thing about this book was its suitability for real-life application. I don’t read the same from a book as I do on my computer screen. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading addressed this, giving clear instructions for optimizing my reading habits in both arenas. It also gave very clear guidelines for determining what was worth reading in the first place.
My final verdict of this book is two-fold. First, I appreciate the solid instructions for improving my reading. Much of the advice pertains to focus (something I lack) and retaining what I’ve read (something else I struggle with.) Even if you had no desire to read faster for time’s sake, this how-to guide would be perfect for students wishing to harvest only the most important concepts from lectures, texts, and other materials for the purpose of testing. I could also see it as a kind of “brain exercise” that has coincidentally become immensely popular in today’s video gaming realm. (I can always use a bit of a tune-up on my sometimes fuzzy post-baby brain.) . I’ll be slowly implementing some of the techniques in my life for certain books, and not others. I may also use the newfound knowledge of the brain and how it works to help my children with their own reading-comprehension skills.
My only hope is that those who follow the tips, perform the exercises, and sharpen their skills don’t forget the value of reading for pure enjoyment. There is nothing more precious than the written word which is taken in at a leisurely pace, chewed on delicately, and digested fully. If for one person, this book could take the daily grind of necessary reading and compress it into a manageable chunk (so that you have more time for the great authors of past and present), then I’m a fan.