Speed Readers Anonymous

Hello, my name is Keyes, and I read fast. And by fast, I mean absurdly fast. Ridiculously fast. How fast do I mean? I recently decided to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, which I accomplished in less than a week. Ah, you may be thinking. A shallow boast, that — those are not very long books and aimed at middle readers to boot. I don’t disagree with that. It’s just that when I say “I re-read all of them in less than a week,” I need to clarify that I was only reading them in the bathtub. Reading in the bath tub is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Ergo, I take a bath while reading most evenings. Each bath lasts about 45 minutes to one hour, and I was polishing off one full Chronicle per bath, easy.

Like most talents, reading absurdly fast has its up sides and its down sides. The up sides are, I expect, easy enough to see. For example, it’s pretty hard to overstate how much of a blessing reading insanely fast was when I was in law school given the magnitude of the reading load becoming a lawyer required.


Exhibit 1 is me, exactly ten years ago, during my first semester in law school. I am posing with my fall reading list for the folks back home, which as you can see is threatening to crush me into a fine paste. Also, it is nice not to have to choose between reading a new novel that just came out and a law review article I need to read for work. I can, and do, manage both.

That being said, reading very, very fast has its downsides. Oh boy, does it have its downsides.

As a child, I was frequently accused by teachers who I expect meant very well of not having actually read the assigned material during in-class reading assignments. Which, if you are a learning disabled child (which I was — I have a math disability, which in no way affects my ability to either lawyer effectively or read eleventy-billion words per hour), is not great for your self-esteem: when half of your teachers think you’re an idiot because you have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), it sucks to have the other half think you’re being lazy. Also, having to read things with my class was absolute torture. I, to this day, cannot handle either Of Mice and Men or The Great Gatsby because my memories of having to read through them v. e. r. y.  s. l. o. w. l. y. with the rest of my freshman English class has utterly tainted my feelings about the source material. It’s like that torture where they slowly drip water on your head, only with words and stupid metaphors about what the light at the end of the pier means.

By the time I got to law school I was regularly finishing exams in half the time it was taking my classmates. This was not an advantage. In law school, having a reputation for finishing a difficult exam nearly an hour before everybody else in the class does not endear one to one’s fellows AT ALL. Law students are paranoid, nervous wrecks, and they gossip like every bad stereotype of an upper-middle class New Jersey society housewife. I was absolutely not an exception to the nervous wreck part. I lost many nights of sleep wondering if I was finishing exams so fast because I was crazy smart or if I was doing it because I was actually a moron. It got to the point that by my second year, I would sit at my desk and pretend to still be working on my exams well after I’d finished just waiting for other people started getting up so I could leave without feeling like I looked either like a total idiot or like an arrogant twit.

Also, I don’t sound things out in my head. I read entire words (and sometimes phrases) at a glance. So, if you ever want a really good giggle, ask me to pronounce a word I know very well from reading but have never heard spoken out loud. That won’t be hard: there are tons of words I know that I have never heard spoken, much less tried to say. Odds are, I’ll mangle it beyond all recognition. My ability to read very, very fast therefore sometimes makes me sound drastically less well read than I actually am. Not to mention less intelligent. That being said, I continue to stand by my belief that ‘nuclear’ is pronounced “NUK-Qu-LERRRR” and not “new-clear.” Me and W, man, we’re right and all the rest of you are wrong and frankly that’s about the only context in which I could write that sentence without my tongue being firmly lodged in my cheek.

Reading as fast as I do also gets expensive. And heavy. Very heavy. Have I mentioned heavy? Please turn your attention to Exhibit 2, which are pictures I took in the past ten days or so as we have settled into our new apartment


Let me explain that the books on top of and in the shelves are books we decided to keep after a recent move.


The ones in the bags are ones we are getting rid of. If you live in the greater New York metro, they may soon be appearing at a used bookstore near you. And what is not pictured are the giant Tupperware storage boxes full of legal textbooks and treatise materials that are not currently out because it has become painfully apparent I need to buy them their own big, sturdy shelving unit. Emphasis on sturdy, because they nearly toppled the one I had them in two or so moves ago.

I’ve read nearly all of them. The ones I haven’t read are books that belong to my husband that I had no interest in. I don’t do a TBR pile. Ever. If I am buying a book, it’s because I am about to read it. End of story. And if I own a book, that means that I have already read it. Again, end of story.

You know what’s really sad about those piles of books? They’re all older. I switched to reading electronic books almost exclusively about four years ago. With very few exceptions I haven’t bought a physical book since, and it’s a good thing, too, because I have no earthly idea how I would have moved my book collection if I had. If I were to make a list of “the best things that have ever happened to me,” the advent of ebooks would be in the top five, along with the invention of smartphones with real-time mapping apps, meeting my husband (hi, honey!), and discovering that Kinder chocolate can be purchased at most Bed, Bath, and Beyonds.

In terms of ebooks, as of today I have 600 items in my Nook library and 30 on my Kindle. Some of those are probably samples I haven’t purged out yet and some of them are news magazines (I recently subscribed to The Economist.) But most of them are novels. Which I’ve read. Again, I don’t do a TBR pile, so if I buy a book, I’m about to read it. This is particularly true of ebooks, since “oh no, what if it sells out” is simply not a concern. Price gouging, on the other hand, is. Between the original ebook settlement in 2014 and the Apple ebook settlement this past summer, I got $272.56 back. On one hand that was utterly delightful (I turned it into STILL MORE BOOKS) but it is also depressing that I’ve been overcharged at least that much over the years. Probably more.

And it’s a good thing that I like to re-read books. Because if I didn’t, I shudder to think of how many more physical books I’d have acquired and then had to move. More than once, since I’ve literally never lived anywhere for more than five years at a stretch. I’ll probably have to move the current physical book pile at least once more since I doubt we will be in the current apartment for more than three or four years. Hopefully at that point we’ll be buying a house, and we can designate a room “the library.” Then we can just squirrel physical books there until we die and moving them will then be our hypothetical children’s problem and not mine.

I think about this every time someone trots out some article about how ebooks are drastically inferior to dead-tree books because the smell! (Which I cannot stand, actually; it’s a testament to how much I like to read that I tolerated it for as long as I did!) Or the weight of the book in your hands! (Remember that feeling when your back is killing you from hauling box after box of books up three flights of stairs.) Look, I’m not gonna knock people who prefer paper books. I get that people are very attached to them. But I read too fast for them to be practical for me, and I like to re-read books too often for me to be willing to prune my library as savagely as I’d have to to keep my book-horde manageable . Which is just totally not acceptable because I NEED TO HAVE the book horde. Who knows when I may want to re-read something in it again?


  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier September 14, 2016 at 7:33 am

    “I don’t do a TBR pile. Ever. If I am buying a book, it’s because I am about to read it. End of story. And if I own a book, that means that I have already read it. Again, end of story.”

    SO JEALOUS! I have an entire shelf. It’s not a HUGE shelf. But it’s still a shelf.

    Also, do you do your bathtime reading with an ereader? Because that would make me nervous.

    • Shara White September 14, 2016 at 10:02 am

      I have TBR shelves. With an S. And piles on dressers and desks.

      I put my Kindle in a ziplock bag if I’m reading in the tub.

      • Keyes September 16, 2016 at 8:27 am

        Ditto on the ziplock bag. And your shelves are the stuff of legend. 🙂

    • Keyes September 16, 2016 at 8:26 am

      I do: I use my old Nook (I otherwise do my reading on a Google Pixel C tablet). I put it in a very tightly sealed ziplock bag and I change the bags out regularly (my cat likes to chew on the edges). It loses a lot of touch sensitivity but you don’t need much to turn the pages, and it’s kind of dying anyway (it will not fully charge anymore) so if water kills it, I’m not going to be heartbroken. I stole this trick from several lifeguards I know. It is also handy for taking a tablet to the beach for reading purposes because it keeps the sand out.

      Use at your own risk, of course. But I’ve never had a problem.

  • steelvictory September 14, 2016 at 8:33 am

    The bit about your experiences in school gave me flashbacks! Like that time the proctor of an AP exam accused me to cheating because I finished the essay portion so quickly… I can probably match you in the speed-reading department, and the only reason I do have a TBR pile is because I also have a Netflix addiction. 🙂

    • Keyes September 16, 2016 at 8:29 am

      I probably read as much as I do (for fun) because I don’t watch TV. I don’t mean that as a judgment against people who like visual media: it’s just that if I am using the TV it’s because I’m playing a video game. It’s just that if you want me to sit down and actually WATCH VISUAL MEDIA you need to drag me to the movies.

  • Carey Ballard September 14, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Same problem with math here (diagnosed too late for an IEP tho). I learned to read very early, and usually Read All The Things–my family had to hide whatever they didn’t want me to read, or else answer Very Embarrassing Questions. When I was that age, I was a pretty fast reader; I’ve slowed down as an adult tho.

    I have TBR shelves too. I think of it as my rainy day collection–although I’ve set a goal of reading one rainy-day book a month, there’s no danger of me getting through it any time soon.

    • Keyes September 16, 2016 at 8:32 am

      How are you at spelling? My spelling has improved immensely over the years, but that’s a fucntion of having long, long since memorized how most of the words I use on a regular basis are supposed to “look”. I spent a year in remedial reading (which my parents freaked out about) because one of my special ed teams refused to believe I could actually have a high school reading level (in third grade) when I couldn’t spell worth a damn. Those were fun times.

  • Kelly McCarty September 18, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    I read fast enough that people remark on it. I noticed that I’d finish first when reading in class in school and sometimes when people give me something to read, they say, “You already read that?” I don’t think I read as fast as you do, but I once clocked myself reading 140 pages in 60 minutes because I started a book while doing an hour on the stationary bike. I’m not a fan of electronic books, so i depend on the library to keep my addiction in check.


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