How Fast Should You Read?

how fast should you read a book

The important thing is not so much to read fast, as to read each book at the speed it deserves. It is as regrettable to spend too much time on some books as it is to read others too quickly. Jacques Bonnet

I read a lot. The last two years I read about 175 books each year. People think I am a speed reader. I am not. I have never sped-read a book in my life. However, my reading rate can be pretty fast. But I don't read to get through a book. I read to enjoy a book and to learn from it. Therefore, I love this advice from Jacques Bonnet about the speed at which one should read.

So I read at the pace a book deserves. Most of the books I read, need good time, energy, and focus to get the most out of them. 

When I read novels, the pace at which I read is much faster. I am reading for fun. The thrill of a good story keeps me turning the pages. 

But over the years and a few thousand books, I have learned how to read well. "Years of work are required before the cerebral mechanisms for reading, if regularly oiled, finally become unconscious" (Stanislas Dehaene). I know when to slow down and dig deep. I know when to skim over unnecessary material. I know how to find what is most important. I know how to annotate and comment, and so enhance my experience of what is most important.

The more knowledge I gain about a particular area of study, the easier it is to read other works in that field. Easier, but not necessarily faster. For as I gain capacity and even a measure of expertise, I find that I engage even more thoroughly with the content of the current book. The more I know, the more I probe as I read. The more I know, the more questions I have, and the more critique I can offer.

Over the years I have also become much better at one particular skill. I can now actually set aside a book that I am not enjoying, or which I find, the return is just not worth the effort. At one time, it seemed a bit "sacriligeous" not to finish a book. So i would make myself read a book through to the end. I still finish the VERY LARGE majority of books I start, but there a few I put down.

Occasionally I put them back on the "read later" shelf. Other times I move them to the pile of books to be shelved... if that happens, they won't be read, just stored in case I may need a reference.

I am selective about the books that get in my library. But the recommendations for what I select come from many sources. Friends, fellow readers, book sellers, books I am reading... all give me ideas for more reading.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International