Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Website of the Day - Reading is my Superpower

It's summer. And you know what that means. Summer reading lists.

As I was unpacking and organizing my bookshelf after our recent move, I got melancholy over the amount of books I have yet to read.

Baby and I both agree that an ideal vacation would a month in a cabin (mountains or beach) with nothing but a stack of books and some good wine. Clothing optional.

For your summer reading needs, check out READING IS MY SUPERPOWER: Tales of the Superfast Reader. She reads fast. She posts after each book.

Okay, I admit, I am in total awe of superfast readers. Baby can read 3 books to my one.

I used to think I was slow or dumb because it took me so long to read. It made being an English major a little challenging. Over the years I have realized why it takes me so long.

1) I still subvocalize. I read everything in my head as if reading out loud to someone. I didn't realize until I was in my mid-20's that fast readers don't do this. I could spend time and energy doing exercises to change this if I really wanted to. It's something that is meant to happen naturally, but no one ever told me this in school!

2) My mind wanders. It doesn't matter how engaging the story, I just have one of those minds. I'm reading about a trip to Alaska and then I start thinking about my own travels and my family and then... oh, shoot... gotta read that entire paragraph all over again.

3) If I read a humourous exchange of dialogue, well-crafted description, clever turn of words, or sheer poetic language I find that I have to read the line again just to appreciate the writer's craft. Stuff like that makes my toes tingle.

So if you, too, have been puzzled over why your reading speed is sub-par, fear not, you just may have an active mind.


annie said...

Thanks for the shout out! I reiterate the praise by saying that I am in awe of your outstanding writing exercises. I used to teach screenwriting and I never came up with anything half as good.

There is a lot to be said for lingering on language. That's why I'm such a big re-reader. If I love a book, I want to read it again, so that I can savor the language without having to worry about what's happening in the plot.

The subvocalization thing is interesting... I have a distinct memory of being in school as a little girl, and realizing that I was "reading in my head," or not sub-vocalizing anymore. I guess my brain is wired to do this naturally.

The downside is that I have trouble appreciating poetry & short stories. Also, when I've studied foreign languages I tend to take inadvertent shortcuts, like assuming I know what a word is when I don't. And while reading in other languages comes easily, I've had trouble making the jump to conversation...

Poodlerat said...

Hi! I just found your blog through Superfast Reader.

I read English very quickly, but French quite slowly, and when I read your post I realized that I do subvocalize in French. When I make an effort not to, my reading is much faster.

I started doing it to regain some of my childhood fluency and speed in speaking French, but I didn't realize until now that I'd started doing it unconsciously!

My best friend (an English major), loves to read as much as I do, but reads much slower. She can also only read for limited periods of time without getting bored and distracted, no matter how much she's enjoying the book.

So a book like, say, Pride and Prejudice, which I would devour in one 3-hour sitting, might take her 6-8 hours worth of 1/2-hour periods, spread out over several days or weeks. She finds it frustrating sometimes---especially when it's an assigned book that she's not really enjoying!

It makes her a much more selective reader than I am.

I really enjoyed your post, because it made me think about the seemingly-irrelevant things that actually have a huge impact on what we read.

OpenChannel said...

Superfast - thanks for the props. Isn't the subvocalization thing wacky? Why doesn't anyone tell us about this in school?

I only learned because in my mid-20's I worked as a vision therapist and the optometrist training me was telling me about different issues our patients might have with reading. Perhaps they're dyslexic, perhaps their eyes don't converge properly, perhaps they still subvocalize...

"What's that?" I asked.
"When you read out loud in your head."
"Doesn't everyone do that?"


Sure enough, when I asked my friends about it they all gave me funny looks.

I guess the upside is that I DO enjoy poetry! (well, good poetry, anyway, but that's another topic)

OpenChannel said...

Poodlerat - thanks for cruising in.

That makes complete sense when studying other languages and I guess you know you're fluent when you stop doing it. There's another layer too, which is translating everything in your mind as you read it. I studied German for a while and I never really got past that point.

I feel for your friend! As an English major I stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning just to complete my reading assignments.

Ask her if she still subvocalizes. There are exercises one can do to stop doing this. When you get to my age, I think it's harder to undo.

Poodlerat said...

Thanks, I will ask her---who knows, it might help her out!

I was in French Immersion from ages 5-10, so my French comprehension is quite good. My vocabulary and verbal fluency have suffered most since then. Hence the subvocalizing.

I learned to read English at home, not in school, and I don't really remember reading aloud---it may be that I never subvocalized. Of course, I never did it in French, either, not until I was in my late teens, but then I can't recall reading aloud very often in French, either, so maybe it's something about the way I was taught? Or maybe my memory is just faulty. I wonder if there have been any studies on the subject (of subvocalizing)?