Is My Reading Comprehension Affected by My Reading Speed?

For as long as I've remembered, I've been a fast reader. As a child, I flew through books faster than my parents could buy them. Even though I was reading 300+ page books, there were days where I could easily finish two or more.

As I got older, conversations with friends made me realize that not everyone is a fast reader. While I could easily fly through a 300+ page book in a few hours, that wasn't the case for some of my friends. My parents and some of my friends questioned how I was able to read so quickly and if I was actually getting the full story if I flew through everything.

Over the years, I've thought a lot about this. If I read so quickly, does it affect my understanding of the story? Am I experiencing it to the fullest? And what does it say if I'm reading one book much faster than another?

My use of Bookly in recent months has given me a lot of insight into my reading speeds, both in physical and audio format. My average speed is a page every 0.7 minutes, but I can read as quickly as a page every 0.5 minutes if the book is easy/font is big. However, something I noticed while reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue earlier this month was that I was reading much slower than I usually do.

Noticing the difference in my reading, I began to wonder when I read faster and what that meant for my comprehension and enjoyment of the book. Normally, I would say that if I'm enjoying a book, I fly through it pretty quickly. Books I'm not enjoying as much can feel like a drag, making me read slower. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was my most anticipated book of the year and I was loving every moment of it. Yet my reading speed was averaging 1.2 minutes per page, the slowest any of my reading has been in ages.

Anne of Green Gables has been one of my favorite books for years, so I thought it'd be fitting to compare it to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, which is easily my favorite book of 2020. My familiarity with Anne's story allowed me to breeze through the book at the same rate I usually do. When I first started it, I needed some time to get used to consuming the story in physical form again, having most read and re-read it through audiobooks because I didn't own it until my college years. But once I got used to seeing the story in print, I settled into my usual fast pace.

With Addie LaRue, I noticed that I was slowing down to really absorb every single word. Not only is it a book I've been waiting for since hearing about it years ago, it's one that I know is very close to V.E. Schwab's heart. Combined with the writing style and the story itself, I read slowly to appreciate every single word and take in every moment of the reading experience. I took my time to enjoy the story and honestly, also because I didn't want it to end.

So how do the two things compare? Both are favorites but I read them at vastly different speeds. Which one do I understand and appreciate more?

Honestly, the answer is both. Anne of Green Gables is much more familiar to me and that allows me to read it faster, but it's also just a style that doesn't necessarily make me feel like I need to pause over every word. But The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is so lyrically written, I want to spend more time appreciating everything that went into creating the book. It doesn't mean I value one over the other. Both books are important in my life and will continue making an impact on me.

Then I thought about how this compares when I read books I don't like. Above, we have Wonder Woman: Warbringer, which is a beautifully written story in the DC Heroes series, and we have The Green Mile, my first and last of Stephen King's fiction books. Despite the difference in ratings, I read them at nearly the same speed. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is a tall hardback and The Green Mile is a mass market paperback, but that didn't speed up or slow down my reading. Yet, if you asked me what the two were about, I'd be able to give you a far better summary of the former than the latter.

Granted, I may have paid a little less attention to The Green Mile because I was bored and nearly fell asleep at one point. I mean, if I really tried, I probably could explain The Green Mile pretty well. So not only do I read books I dislike at roughly the same speed as books I love, my comprehension levels are about the same. If anything, I could really only say that my comprehension levels dropped slightly because I didn't enjoy the book, and not because I was reading it quickly. In fact, I can think of several books I dislike that I slowed my reading speed for in an effort to better understand it, and even slowing down didn't help me make sense of the stories.

After thinking about this topic for the past few weeks and looking at these stats, I think I can say that my comprehension is rarely affected by my reading speed. There are books I read more slowly with because it requires more focus, more attention, or simply because I want to take my time with it. Others can grab my attention so fully that I fly through it without realizing how quickly I'm reading or they're just so fun that I can blow through the book in a few hours.

Of course, I know this isn't the case for everyone. Plenty of readers in my life read at different speeds than I do. Some reader way faster and still grasp everything that's going on, while others read slower because it helps them understand the whole story. At the end of the day, it doesn't actually matter how quickly anyone is reading as long as they are enjoying themselves and understand what's going on.

Have you ever timed yourself to see what your reading speed is?

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