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61 Books in a Year

26 Jul

Ken Norton explains how he did it:

When I analyzed my reading habits, I realized that despite only finishing five or six books a year, I was already spending a big portion of my evening reading: social media, the news, Silicon Valley think pieces, and my Pocket backlog. Some of it would be worthwhile, but I wasn’t deliberate in how I chose to spend my time (ahem, Wikipedia wormholes). Junk reading, like junk food, is momentarily satisfying but terrible for you in the long term. I didn’t need to read more, I thought, I just needed to read healthier.

He has four other suggestions. I wonder how much of my reading is junk reading? There are certain blogs I look at everyday, but I think I mostly profit from that. I don’t spend time on Twitter or Facebook, but I do spend a lot of time reading newspapers on my Kindle. Norton seems to have the same issue:

I’m still a news junkie when it comes to politics, but I’ve metered the time I spend reading the news (primarily to keep my blood pressure down). I subscribe to important publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I try to pepper short bursts of news over the course of the day. I also don’t load news or articles on my Kindle.



Does Tyler Cowen have a limited vocabulary?

16 Jun

In a recent blog post, Tyler Cowen wrote  “I think of myself as commanding only a limited English-language vocabulary.”

I am very skeptical of this claim.

Cowen has a Ph.D. from Harvard and higher education is positively correlated with vocabulary size. Cowen is also a famously fast reader of complex academic texts. I do not see how such a reading speed would be possible without good sight reading knowledge of a very large vocabulary.

Here is Cowen’s advice for reading fast.

And here is his trip to The Strand with Michael Orthofer.

“How To Read 100 Books A Year”

28 Apr

Things are pretty busy over here at Peakmemory with the approaching end of the semester. So I draw your attention to this piece by Darius Foroux.

Always Be Reading means that you:
Read on the train
Read while you’re breastfeeding your baby
Read while you’re eating
Read at the doctor’s office
Read at work
And most importantly — read while everyone else is wasting their time watching the news or checking Facebook for the 113th time that day.
If you do that, you’ll read more than 100 books in a year. Here’s how. Most people read 50 pages an hour. If you read 10 hours a week, you’ll read 26,000 pages a year. Let’s say the average book you read is 250 pages: In this scenario, you’ll read 104 books in a year.

Maybe not speed reading, but how about speed viewing?

24 Jun

I have longed to believe in speed reading. The thought of whole libraries of unread books is depressing. Unfortunately, research does not support the claims made about speed reading (although, I do hold out some hope for the RSVP technique).

Now, an article in The Washington Post reports on speed viewing of television:

I have  a habit that horrifies most people. I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. Four episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” fit into an hour. An entire season of “Game of Thrones” goes down on the bus ride from D.C. to New York.

Here’s how you can experiment with this in Youtube.


Maybe, now I can finally watch Breaking Bad!


More on speed reading

10 Feb

Last week I blogged on speed reading.

One interesting area of research is rapid serial visual presentation  (RSVP) of words. Unfortunately, while RSVP can significantly increase reading speed for short texts, the available evidence suggests that comprehension suffers for longer texts.

However, here is a Quantified Self video making the case for RSVP

Kyrill Potapov: Finding My Optimum Reading Speed from Quantified Self on Vimeo.

Speed reading: some faint hope

27 Jan

I have always wanted to believe in the promise of speed reading. Stacks of unread books are a constant reminder of the brevity of life and how little I really know. But, I am well aware of the research on speed reading, much of it is negative.

The Association for Psychological Science has just released its report on speed reading. You can read it here.  While it doesn’t offer much in the way of hope, I did notice these observations:

“skimming is an important skill and may be a reasonable way to cope with the overwhelming amount of text we have to read, as long as we are willing to accept the trade-off between speed and accuracy that skimming requires. Strategies such as attending to headings and spending more time on the beginning and ending of paragraphs may improve comprehension during skimming or may allow people who are skimming to access the information they seek more effectively.”

“For example, world speed-reading champion Anne Jones reportedly has been clocked at 4,251 words per minute —the normal reading rate is about 250 to 300 words per minute. Such mind-training competitions have become quite popular and have produced remarkable and well-verified feats in training specific skills (e.g., Simon Reinhard memorized a deck of cards in 21.9 seconds, and Kevin Hayes solved eight Rubik’s cubes in a single breath underwater; Carey, 2014; Held, 2015). Not surprisingly, a common characteristic across mind-training competitions is the intense practice demanded to reach these extraordinary levels of performance. Carefully examining the performance of individuals who have become very efficient in speed-reading programs in both immediate and delayed comprehension tests may provide important insights into the limits on the speed of transferring print to meaning.”


Advice for faster reading

23 Jan

Anyone who follows Tyler Cowen‘s blog Marginal Revolution has to be impressed by how much he reads. In this blog post he gives advice for faster reading:

” I am unfamiliar with speed reading techniques, so I cannot evaluate them.
The best way to read quickly is to read lots. And lots. And to have started a long time ago. Then maybe you know what is coming in the current book. Reading quickly is often, in a margin-relevant way, close to not reading much at all.
Note that when you add up the time costs of reading lots, quick readers don’t consume information as efficiently as you might think. They’ve chosen a path with high upfront costs and low marginal costs. “It took me 44 years to read this book” is not a bad answer to many questions about reading speed.
Another way to read quickly is to cut bait on the losers. I start ten or so books for every one I finish. I don’t mind disliking a book, and I never regret having picked it up and started it. I am ruthless in my discards.”

But read the whole thing.



Reading and its future

14 Jun

In The New York Review of books, Tim Parks writes about how our new techno-cultural environment makes it more difficult to read:


“What I’m talking about is the state of constant distraction we live in and how that affects the very special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction—for immersing oneself in it and then coming back and back to it on numerous occasions over what could be days, weeks, or months, each time picking up the threads of the story or stories, the patterning of internal reference, the positioning of the work within the context of other novels and indeed the larger world.”

Parks shares this anecdote:

Only yesterday a smart young Ph.D. student told me his supreme goal was to keep himself from checking his email more than once an hour, though he doubted he would achieve such iron discipline in the near future.

To the rescue is Aman at The Confession of a Readaholic Blog with Five Habits of an Efficient Reader.


Text versus screen reading: A case for bi-literacy

25 Apr

A piece in The Washington Post tells us:

‘Several English department chairs from around the country have e-mailed her to say their students are having trouble reading the classics.

“They cannot read ‘Middlemarch.’ They cannot read William James or Henry James,” Wolf said. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of dealing with the convoluted syntax and construction of George Eliot and Henry James.””


“Researchers say that the differences between text and screen reading should be studied more thoroughly and that the differences should be dealt with in education, particularly with school-aged children. There are advantages to both ways of reading. There is potential for a bi-literate brain.”

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Speed reading claim called into question

23 Apr

I have always wanted to believe that speed reading is possible and that, some day, I could obtain this ability. One of the claims made in speed reading courses and books is that regression, going back and rereading words, contributes to slow reading and can be eliminated.

Now, a paper published in Psychological Science reports evidence that regression is necessary for comprehension. Here is the abstract:


Recent Web apps have spurred excitement around the prospect of achieving speed reading by eliminating eye movements (i.e., with rapid serial visual presentation, or RSVP, in which words are presented briefly one at a time and  sequentially). Our experiment using a novel trailing-mask paradigm contradicts these claims. Subjects read normally or while the display of text was manipulated such that each word was masked once the reader’s eyes moved past it. This manipulation created a scenario similar to RSVP: The reader could read each word only once; regressions (i.e., rereadings of words), which are a natural part of the reading process, were functionally eliminated. Crucially, the inability to regress affected comprehension negatively. Furthermore, this effect was not confined to ambiguous sentences. These data suggest that regressions contribute to the ability to understand what one has read and call into question the viability of speed-reading apps that eliminate eye movements (e.g., those that use RSVP).

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that there is trade off between reading speed and comprehension.

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