In addition to a lifelong wish that my stomach were flat, I’ve always wished I could read faster. For their sixteenth birthdays, friends received pink Princess phones. I asked my parents for an Evelyn Wood speed reading course.
Speed reading involves expanding your vision to group an entire line and absorb it all at once. This failed for me because I couldn’t group words to begin with. I read word by word. What I needed was remedial reading.
Do I read every word because I was taught that way, or is it how some of us are wired? I wonder whether Susie Schmerling from Mrs. Broggini’s fourth-grade class, like me, reads only one word at a time.
More than once I’ve been at risk for getting booted from my book club for showing up to partake of the potluck and camaraderie but not having read the book. It’s not that I don’t want to read; my intentions are earnest; I always buy the book. But my mind strays and I end up reading the same sentence again and again.
Plus, although my mental capacity comes up short in the speed reading department, I can say words backwards. Words with l’s and several syllables, for example, are especially pleasing to say in reverse and this slows me down. Try it: literally backwards is yllaretil. It feels good, like a tongue exercise, even if I say it just in my head.
When mention of this ability (ytiliba) of mine occurs, someone inevitably (ylbativeni) asks when the backwards talk began. I trace it back to third grade. “Restaurant” was a tricky spelling word, the “au” challenged me. But, since backwards talk is phonetic, I knew the forward spelling of tnaruatser must include “au.” (Does that make sense?)
Also in third grade I was in the highest reading group. That was my peak.
On top of everything else, I lose continuity and forget what happened from one reading to the next. Then it takes time to fumble back, trying to figure out who is this person with tears in her eyes. I can tell from context I ought to know. Books on tape offer little relief.
If a book has long paragraphs and more description than story, I get restless. After making a failed effort to get interested, I calculate the dozens of hours it would take to reach the end and I think about how I could be learning to repair my bicycle instead and I give up.
That said, sometimes I get through a book by reading it in my hot tub. Reading while water jets fire at my shoulder blades is like double tasking, which helps, and is why I have trouble just reading on a sofa. True, the warped pages expand the book’s width. I also dog ear and make notes in the margins, all of which pleases me versus a crisp novel like all the ones on my shelves that bore me early on.
Francine Prose in her book Reading Like a Writer (hah!), proposes reading slowly and deliberately. Honestly, I don’t understand how you can read as slowly as I do and become a well-read person who also has time to do laundry.
I’m further limited by a worry mind that fears facing a story’s dark parts so, for example, I knew if I’d gotten far enough in Let the Great World Spin, I would have had to skip the section that involved mothers whose sons had died in Viet Nam.
Even low-brow books move slowly. It took me an entire month of recuperation after hip replacement surgery, to read The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella of Shopoholic fame, which I especially like for its cheery, tragedy-free setting in the Cotswalds.
Recently my book club renewed our vows to read the book we choose. That night the group voted on a 624-page hardcover, The Invisible Bridge. In addition, I was about to leave for China and a 2.2 pound book would have meant I’d have to take fewer pretzels to make space, since I don’t check luggage.
My friends suggested I get a Kindle. Up to this point I had been reluctant, worried I wouldn’t be able to rustle back through actual pages. This same navigation problem has always plagued me when listening to books on a Discman or, worse, an iPod.
Ah, but now that I have bought a Kindle and have broken the barrier that always stands between me and a new piece of technology, I’ve learned I can search for a keyword and readily find what I’m looking for.
Kindle and I are still in the romantic love phase. With fewer words on the screen than on a book’s page, it’s less daunting. Each time I click to a new page, it feels like the endorphin surge you get from checking off a to-do item in your Filofax.
My mother likes to say, “If books are your friends, you’ll never be lonely.” Yo, Ma, Kindle is now my friend (though I don’t expect it to leave messages on my voicemail), stay tuned!
Does anyone out there feel as challenged by reading as I do?
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