Favorite Things, Life, Life Hacks

So, I’m trying speed reading…

It turns out I hoard ebooks just as much as I hoard physical books. I love me a Humble Bundle stacked with interesting and unusual knowledge. Project Gutenberg is my jam. Give me that sweet, sweet free Tor download, baby, and heck yeah I’ll sign up for your newsletter.

Worth it.

But! This means that I have a not inconsiderable backlog of really cool stuff that I’m struggling to find time to put into my eyeballs. My digital “To-Read” pile is growing, not quite exponentially… But close.

It all started (cue Star Wars crawl) months and months ago when I read an article that I swear exists but cannot find now (thanks, technology) about speed reading. I thought it was interesting, but there weren’t a lot of apps for it, so I ended up downloading a Chrome extension and trying it out.

It’s super weird, you guys.

Instead of having your eyes flow across text, you focus on a single point and the words are flashed in front of your eyes. Because you don’t have to keep your place on a page, you’re able to take in more words per minute.

This takes a little bit of getting used to, since your eyes are pretty much trained to be moving along a line of text when you’re reading. In most apps I’ve seen, this is fixed by designating a place on the screen to focus your gaze, by highlighting a word or even a letter towards the center of the word.

Screenshot from the Reedy Android app showing the featured image of an astronaut on the lunar surface, the headline, "Making a documentary that extends past one lunar landing," and the opening paragraph of the article on a black background with the speed reading controls along the bottom of the screen.
Screenshot from the Reedly App. You can see the speed reading controls along the bottom, and please ignore my stuffed notification bar.

And it works! Once I got the hang of it, I was really able to crank up the words-per-minute on my laptop from 300 wpm to around 500 wpm. But because I don’t do a lot of hardcore reading on my laptop, I didn’t use it as much as I should.

Smash cut to a couple months later, when I was scrolling through the Play Store and Reedly came up in my recommendation

I downloaded the app to my phone last week and I’ve been having a lot of fun absolutely blazing through a collection of MIT Essential Knowledge books I got in a Humble Bundle a couple months ago.

Screenshot of the Reedly app in speed reading mode
Speed reading in action! You focus on the highlighted word.

I’ve been looking into this and the research is fascinating. For some people, this is an effective way to speed up your reading. But while some people claim that they can read at a speed of 1000 words per minute, the research suggests that anything over 400-500 words overloads your brain’s short term memory and you cannot retain the information you’re reading.

My personal experience would seem to bear this out. I’ve settled on about 450 words per minute, which is fast enough to get through things quickly, but I don’t lose comprehension. It’s the same for both fiction and non-fiction.

I’d suggest everyone give it a try. While I haven’t found a speed-reader app I like on iOS, Reedy is a solid choice on Android. In addition to the speed reading mode, Reedy also has a regular reading mode, and a text to voice mode so you can listen to your books while you’re doing other things.