The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading: A Book Review

By Linsey Knerl on 26 October 2008 6 comments

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.

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Guest's picture

I've always been curious about this stuff, but never really dove in. I'm curious if you can optimize your reading for "fun" reading like novels or whatever. In my mind it feels like I'd be flipping through pages like a madman instead of leisurely enjoying a book. But if I can speed up what I read a little bit and still enjoy it—hey, the more I can read the better!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I already have a tendency to skip a bit in some of the fluffier fiction that I read (a predictable mystery, for example.)  I think it would be helpful for the last few chapters of a book where you just need to get through it for the sake of getting it read.  For other works, however, I like to take my time (for isn't that the purpose?)

I think this technique is most beneficial for nonfiction works, studying for retention, and for cruising through your daily read list.  I know that it gives advice for getting done with that pile of mags and papers on your end table.  I also like that it helps to discern what is worth reading in the first place.  

Whatever your need, I always wanted to know the "science" behind it.  This was revealed quite clearly in this book.


Guest's picture

So, the obvious question is: how long did it take you to finish the book?!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Good one  :)

Guest's picture

Hi Linsey:
I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful blog post about my book! You got exactly from it what I hoped a reader would. I agree that "speed reading" is best used for non-fiction though I use it for fiction when I want to quickly get through the decriptions and read the good parts :)

I don't know how old your kids are but I do suggest you consider waiting until they are at least in 7th greade before teaching them some of the strategies. I think kids need to have a good sight vocabulary before delving into faster reading strategies.

You might be interested in knowing I just launched a new online speed reading course that takes 3 hours to deliver (maybe a little longer to complete). I'd love you to check it out at

Thanks for the glowing and accurate review. Let me know if I can help you in any way!
Abby Marks Beale

Linsey Knerl's picture

Welcome to Wise Bread!  I'll be sure to check it out!

Linsey Knerl