Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Speed Reading

I've always been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. And a big fan of public libraries. I remember my first library cards. In those days, you had 4 pink library cards as a junior library member, and you slot the index card of each book you borrow, which is stored in a little pocket on the first page of the book, into each library card which is actually a cardboard slot card and the librarian filed them away. When you return the books, the librarian would have to retrieve each book, put the index cards back and hand you your library cards for your next loan. I was devouring 4 books every week, going to the neighbourhood library every Saturday with my mum or my friends.

I am not sure if the eagerness to finish reading my 4 books pushed me to read fast or if I read so much so I had lots of reading practice and hence I read fast or if I've just got a short attention span (or possibly impatient) and need to get through the book quickly and hence learnt the skill of skimming very early on in life. Whatever it is, I am a speed reader. Colleagues complain I am scrolling down the computer screen too quickly whenever we read something on the screen together. G accuses me of skipping chunks of articles he tells me to read - until I quote him details from the chunks he thinks I've missed. You can't argue with evidence.

So when the State Library organised a speed reading competition in conjunction with the global launch of Dan Brown's latest novel, "The Lost Symbol" for today, I threw my hat into the ring. I thought it was going to be a cosy affair with people curled up on armchairs reading away. It turned out to be classroom-style rows of tables and chairs, with a bunch of TV cameras and reporters hanging around at the back of the room just behind where I sat (my favourite spot is always the last or near-last row in a room if possible). We were given official T-shirts and a competitor's bib. Yes that's right - a number bib like a marathon runner. What were they going to do? I imagine a commentary like, "Yes and that is number 4, she's turned page 246 and is headed right into page 247 like the wind. Oh wait, number 16 is fast catching up, he's skimming really fast."

We were given the first 2 chapters to "warm up" at 8.15 am. And at 9 am promptly, the competition kicks off and the large digital clock starting the count. Finally at 2 hours 25 minutes, this girl in the first row announced she has finished (yeah it's always the eager beavers who sit in the first row). The reporters rushed forward and try to interview her but the organisers cut them short and whisked her away to do a comprehensive test to ensure she's not only read but retained some important bits so that she can give a coherent book review to the interviewers. She must have passed the test, or perhaps they coached her on what she HAS to tell the reporters because she gave a really long spiel on the book when she came out. We had to re-enact the part where she's finished reading the book for the cameras because they didn't manage to film that bit.

I was two-thirds way through at the point the fastest reader finished and will probably take a total of 4 hours to complete. So I take my free copy of "The Lost Symbol" and leave the library, to savour in the comfort of my couch at home.



Anonymous Carly said...

Just so you know... they didn't coach me. Neither did I get every question correct, but I got enough to prove I'd read it. By the time I finished the test I was still shaking, and nervous about what was coming next so it was hardly surprising that I wasn't very concise or coherent - trying to speak succintly after getting all those cameras in your face isn't easy. I'm sure the setup wasn't what any of us were expecting but even if I hadn't been first to finish I still would have enjoyed the experience.

7:42 am  

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