If you want to study history, you have to read. A lot. Depending on your interests, that can mean the multitude of primary sources, secondary sources, object studies, archeological reports, journal articles, blogs, exhibit catalogs, listservs, folklore studies, Facebook pages, auction catalogs, and on and on. Having so much information at our fingertips is both wonderful and disheartening. It makes me wish I could read like Mr. Data.

Reading was easier when I was younger. It seemed I had more time to devote to it. But now my life has become a little more complex. My reading time has dwindled, while my reading pile has grown.

To overcome that, I decided to look up speed reading techniques. Like others I’ve talked to about this, I didn’t think speed reading was useful. Yes, I figured you could plow through readings, but what would you really remember? Besides, I wanted to savor the language, the style of the author. I hoped to make reading a truly immersive experience.

That’s all lovely, but I wasn’t doing any of it. At least not consistently. I did want to savor some books, like poetry or literature, but when it came to more academic works I was more interested in the information. And honestly, except in rare cases, I wasn’t trying to memorize every word I read.

Having overcome my own objections, I found a few speed reading articles online, including

Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes

How to Speed Read Like Theodore Roosevelt

6 Speed Reading Techniques from Wechsler

These sites provide examples for several speed reading techniques. Some make more sense than others (I still can’t get a handle on reading in a Z pattern), but the one technique every article suggested was using a tracker, a pen or a finger, to literally keep your reading pace focused and moving forward. My first thought was that’s how children learn to read, by slowly dragging a finger across a page. Childish (childlike?) or not, it turns out to be surprisingly effective. My pace has clearly increased simply by using a tracker (and I’ve not noticed any decrease in retention). It works for reading onscreen too, but it’s not as comfortable as reading from a page. Reading with a tracker may look weird to others, but honestly who gets style points for reading?  Apart from this guy:

I’m not saying you should plow through everything as quickly as you can. I am suggesting that every text can be read at a more appropriate and efficient pace, one which is often faster than you might normally think. With everything out there to learn and research (and lacking a positronic brain), speed reading seems like a useful tool.

How do you get through your reading pile? Does it make you feel like you’re drowning, treading, or swimming?