I read more slowly than most of my friends who read. I do all the wrong things: I subvocalize, I stop and start, I take detailed notes and extract quotes.
My friends talk about finishing a book in one night, and the same book takes me weeks. Today I watched a video of Visa talking about reading The Beginning of Infinity in a few days, whereas it took me hours of reading per night for several months.
In these moments I wonder what other people are doing that I miss. I feel insecure and frustrated. Am I not smart enough, not verbally proficient enough, not using my time wisely enough?
Some books take me longer than others. The Beginning of Infinity is a good example. From quite early on in the book I knew it was going to be good, and important, so I became very meticulous about making sure I understood everything I read. The result is this:
In effect I wanted to rephrase every core argument that Deutsch made in each chapter. I wanted to capture the high-level structure of each section, and pose my own questions, and extract quotes from the most fascinating or well-written passages. (To get the quotes, I’d use the Google Lens app on my phone so I could highlight text from pictures of a physical book.)
As a result, with the exception of Deutsch’s argument about fine-tuning, and a few specific statements throughout the book, I’m fairly confident I understood all the arguments Deutsch made. And as a result of that, this book has significantly shifted how I think about many things, and I still think about the concepts from the book every day. But it took a very long time to read.
To be clear, I don’t go this slowly with every book; it just so happens that I’m very excited about the topics Deutsch addresses (epistemology, creativity, science) and also love his writing style (very clear and direct, along with plenty of illustrative examples and stories). But the general theme holds: if I find something interesting, I’ll take my time to grasp it, to the point where I feel confident I could explain it to someone else. (Or in the case of a novel, to the point where I feel like I follow every detail in the story.) I read slowly because that’s how I get the most out of reading.
And yet, when I think about the number of books I don’t get to read, about how quickly everyone’s “finished reading” list piles up, I wonder if I’m doing it all wrong.
Over time I’ve been better at letting go of these doubts. I’ve realized how wonderful it is to read slowly, and that it’s possible to do so and still read a lot. It’s fun to take my time to actually digest what I’m reading, to savor it, to capture parts of it in my notes for future recall and enjoyment. I’m not racing against anyone.
This is not to say that people who read quickly are doing so out of a compulsion to be efficient. Some are, but I sense most of the people in my life who read quickly just…happen to read quickly. Perhaps they don’t enunciate all the words in their head as they go, or they skim bits that are less interesting, or they don’t put as much energy into capturing and rephrasing what they learn. Or they could just have brains that are faster and more powerful than mine. In any case, we extract different kinds of experiences from the same set of pages—neither experience being wholly better or worse, but just different.
I’ve come to accept that I read more slowly than my friends and that means that I get through fewer books and pages and ideas in an hour than they do. I don’t think this is something to be embarrassed about or try to change. As long as I find this fruitful and fun, I’ll read as slowly as I need to.