Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 08.23.05
Stanstead, Quebec


Quit squirming and read this

Did you stop reading John Irving novels several years ago when his books began weighing more than a newborn child?

Do you take so long reading a book that by the end you forget the beginning and have to start all over again?

Do you secretly wish there was a Book-of-the-Year Club?

If so, you may be a slow reader. You're not alone. There are thousands if not dozens of slow readers around you, living a life of quiet discombobulation.

I am a slow reader. Currently, for example, I am reading a 500-page book about the World War I Paris peace conference. It's my summer reading, as in I should finish reading it by next summer.

Slow readers are not to be confused with dyslexics or readers with comprehension problems.

Dyslexics have special needs. Slow readers have library fines. Search the Web and you'll find several lists of famous dyslexics. You won't find any lists of famous slow readers.

Then again, you won't find any lists of famous mouth breathers either but we know they're out there, eh, Mr. Karl Rove?

Reading slowly just isn't acceptable in our hyper-literate age when you're supposed to be able to simultaneously listen to the news on television and read completely unrelated text scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

A responsible 21st century adult should be able to read three newspapers every morning. Slow readers don't get past page 1, the obits and the comics (with the exception of "Doonesbury"). Slow readers sign contracts without reading them all the way through because they're embarrassed about how long it's taking. The next thing they know they're in an alley having a kidney forcibly removed.

I would like to pretend that I'm a slow reader because I mull over every word and ponder thematic implications and character motivation. Truth is, like many slow readers, I'm just plain fidgety.

Take the sentence: "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

A slow reader like me will read as follows: "There is a tide [this chair's not comfy at all] in the affairs [I think Bob in Accounting is having an affair with Judy in Human Resources]. There is a tide in the affairs of men [itch, itch… 'That little itch could mean dandruff'] which, taken at the flood [oh yeah, forgot to call the plumber], at the flood, leads on to [maybe I'll try this chair] to fortune."

A buzzing fly, a television in the background, a nearby mouth-breather - all these serve to further distract me from my reading.

My wife, on the other hand, is a model of concentration. You can set off firecrackers beside Deb and she still won't lift her eyes from the page. As a result, she is through three books to my one. Sometimes if we're reading together in bed, I'll try to keep up, page per page. "Flip, flip, flip," she goes as I'm still on the first. I tell myself that her print is larger.

My eldest daughter, Emily, is like her mother, plowing through books with speed and concentration. My second daughter, Kate, approaches reading like I do: big books are scary. And like me, she sees each completed novel as a conquest: "Dad, I'm already at Chapter 7. There are 240 pages in this book so that makes me about a third of the way through!"

Son James likes Captain Underpants and Mad Magazine. I suspect he's got my genes.

So what do you do if you're a slow reader? There are techniques you can use to increase your reading speed. I won't bother listing them here, however, because all the slow readers gave up reading this column about two paragraphs ago. They were late for work.