THE BLOG
08/02/2013 12:13 pm ET | Updated Oct 02, 2013

Curse You Evelyn Wood -- And All You Speed Reading Book Demons

All authors like fan letters. But indie authors (what we who are not published by the six big behemoths of American book companies call ourselves) love fan letters. It means that we somehow got on someone's radar and that makes us blipping happy.

I have had a recent chain of emails with a fan that I would not normally burden you with, but they led to a rant about one of my pet peeves about some readers that I thought it might be of general interest.

It started when I got an email from Liz, a distant cousin -- geographically distant, that is, distant enough that we have never met face-to-face, and may never even have communicated if not for the wonders of the Internet (thank you, Al Gore -- or whoever).

She wanted me to see an email she got from her friend, Kent, to whom she had recommended my novel, Traveling in Space.

I have begun reading Traveling in Space. I thought the reviews were exaggerations. They're not. This book is way up there on my imaginary favorite books list. I don't really have a favorite books list but if I did Traveling in Space would be way up there. I can't wait to get all of his other books. It is OMG...WOW...etc...etc...etc.

Enjoy stuff,

Kent

Well, needless to say, I enjoyed this stuff! I wrote to Liz and told her how appreciative I was and that I hoped Kent continued to enjoy my book. I told her to feel free to give him my email address if he would like to "talk" to me about the book when he finishes, even if he finds things about it he didn't like.

She did and Kent wrote that day.

This is Liz's friend Kent. It is to my great delight that Liz recommended that I read 'Traveling.' I received your book yesterday from Amazon and have read the first five chapters. I don't know what Liz has told you about this part of the country, but 90% of the population are Tenpercenters. (You'll have to read the novel to understand this reference - Leiva) Your book is an oasis of philosophy, humor and science fiction. My mind is splashing, swimming, diving and hydrating in its waters.

Well! Something else was swimming -- my head.

I had asked Liz to suggest to Kent that when he was done he might want to post a review on Amazon, and he went on to say he would be happy to do that.

Six days later Kent sent me another email.

I felt it only polite to let you know how my reading of Traveling in Space is coming along. Very well I think. You see, I still read with the same word for word "course material" pace that I used in college over forty years ago and still use both to the amusement and annoyance of my wife, Kathy. It matters not if I am reading Steinbeck or Koontz or Hawking or Freud I just rebel at reading any faster for fear of missing some concept. By page count I am just short of the halfway point and ready to begin chapter 17. I love that your marvelously written book is taking me on this exciting and very cognitive adventure.

Thank you!

Kent

And that's what set me off. It was almost as if Kent was apologizing for possibly being late in putting up a review on Amazon because he was giving my novel a slow, well considered read. What is wrong with our society that anyone would feel they would have to apologize for that!?

So I wrote back.

No, no, thank you, Kent! Your kind words about Traveling in Space, as before, are far more appreciated than the word "appreciated" can cover.

But the truly interesting part of your message was you admitting to reading word for word, or as some might call it, slow. Not that you are -- in fact I'm convinced you are not -- but such careful reading is nothing to apologize for. Slow is, indeed, the way I read. It is, indeed, the way I wish everyone in this fast-paced, always-so-busy, short-attention-span, multi-tasking world would read. Because any other way drives me friggin' crazy.

A couple quick stories.

My mother, who loved to read, used to take ten to twelve books (usually English mysteries) out of the library about every two weeks, and read them all incredibly fast. It used to drive me nuts! She once told me, "I don't hear the words, I just see pictures." She had been a "nose always in a book" person since childhood and obviously self-taught herself the "Speed Reading" technique pioneered and exploited by Evelyn Wood, one of the most vile women in history standing along side Lucrezia Borgia, Lizzie Borden, and Lindsay Lohan. (Actually, I'm sure Evelyn Wood was a very nice woman, and her technique is helpful, I suppose, if you are reading technical manuals or smart phone instructions.)

"I don't hear words, I just see pictures"? Nothing could be more devastating for a writer (or budding writer as I was then) to hear. Words are our raw material. Their use, placement, conjunction, and -- yes! -- sound, are more important to a writers than daily bread, the health of our children (or, at least, other people's children), and world peace. Even when the reader reads "silently" we want the words loud and clear in their pretty heads (all my readers have pretty heads). Good writing, the best writing, should be infused with oral tradition genes. This is what a good writer's motto should be: Homer Speaks! Not only did he (the mythical he or the he's that lead to the myth) speak out loud to gatherings of Greeks and other worldly types thousands of years ago, his poetry (and good prose should always be poetry) speaks to us today -- loud and clear. Anyone who reads The Odyssey and "just sees pictures" should be condemned to solitary confinement with a never ending loop of the worse of the 1960s Sword & Sandal epics playing in front of them on a big screen!

The other story concerns another relative who once told me that when he reads -- and he reads a lot and presumably enjoys it -- he skips all the narration and just reads the dialog. What the hell does he think he has in his hand? A mini TV? A tablet connected to YouTube or Hulu? He doesn't even have the opportunity to "just see pictures" because he doesn't read the well-crafted words that set the scene, that describe the atmosphere, that delve into the mind of a character giving the reader an understanding of the configuration of the character's face at that moment. That's like being blind from birth and listening to TV -- without descriptive video! That's not even the "Theater of the Mind" of radio drama -- it's just dialog. And I love dialog, I use a lot of it -- but in a novel it has to be surrounded, enhanced, made comfortable, set up, and led out of with fine narration. With a voice. A voice you want to hear. Out loud or in your head. You must hear the voice.

I could go on -- and in fact I think I will in a blog -- possibly in a blog for the Huffington Post.

See what you've done? You've inspired me to write. Isn't that wonderful?

For reading slow and careful with the words loud in your head -- you, sir, are a hero!

Best and very warm regards,

Steven

Am I speaking out loud into a headwind, my words blasted back into my face? For the sake of heroic readers like Kent, and for the sake of my sanity -- I hope not.