Thursday, April 12, 2012

Speedy Passage

My fourth and final year of university was, in some ways, my least enjoyable year. By then the 90s had begun, and PoMo LitCrit had swept over and drowned the humanities. In the case of literary studies, for every page of fiction I read, I was required to read another 10-20 pages of self-regarding/self-negating PoMo horseshit.

To maintain both my GPA and my slender hold on sanity, I improvised a method of speed-reading (running the eye in a “Z” pattern down the centre of the page and letting peripheral vision sort out the important stuff — a form of “meta-guiding,” basically, which, despite the wiki claims, always worked fine for me). It is no fun whatsoever, but if you are pressed for time (and who among us is not?) it is the most efficient way to sift through and retain a large bulk of information.

There's also skimming, which I think is quite different. Skimming is (in my case) reading the first paragraph, then the last paragraph, then glancing at the middle if there's anything about the first two that tickles the fancy. Skimming is also both pleasant and less efficient, and is what I resort to for well over 90% of what I see on the internet or in newspapers.

No, speed-reading is quite different. It's work, for one thing. Just because it's fast, doesn't mean it is without effort. Olympic sprinters are fast, too, and when they're done covering the necessary ground, they're sweating.

"Faster! FASTER!"

Speed-reading also, for whatever reason, induces a heightened state of anxiety in me. My heart-rate rises, my breathing becomes shallow and fast. If I speed-read for any longer than 10 minutes I need a walk of commensurate length to calm down (wore out my first pair of Doc Martens, my graduating year). I suspect speed-reading lights up the fight-or-flight portion of my brain, which, unless I'm playing Call Of Duty, isn't at all keen to be lit up.

Still, it sure does come in handy — especially when confronted by a door-stopper of a book like The Passage, by Justin Cronin. About which, more tomorrow.

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