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Sunday, 19 June 2011

To skim or not to skim...

I made this: Avid Reader at 12:35 pm
Skim Reading - as defined by wikipedia. It might not be the most accurate 'pedia on the web, but it's most people's first port of call.
Skimming is a process of speed reading that involves visually searching the sentences of a page for clues to meaning. For some people, this comes naturally, and usually may not be acquired by practice. Skimming is usually seen more in adults than in children. It is conducted at a higher rate (700 words per minute and above) than normal reading for comprehension (around 200-230 wpm), and results in lower comprehension rates, especially with information-rich reading material.
Another form of skimming is that commonly employed by readers on the Web. This involves skipping over text that is less interesting or relevant. This form of reading is not new but has become increasingly prevalent due to the ease with which alternative information can be accessed online. Some of the sentences have minor information that might not be required.

So, a friend of mine recently 'read' three Jane Austen books in under three days. 
I was pretty impressed. I mean, I have a bit of speed reader reputation (totally undeserved - I just love/live to read and set aside time most people use for sleeping and eating!), but there is no way I could get through Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion in one sitting each.

The longer we spoke however, the more disquieted I became. My friend had somehow missed that Marianne and Elinor had a sister in Sense and Sensibility. She read Pride and Prejudice and didn't realise that 'Aunt' Gardiner was a family member, or that Wickham had grown up with the Darcy family. Persuasion was a 'soft love story', with no acknowledgement of the anguish or journey the principle characters went through.

My friend disregarded my concerns. She saw these details as...well, just details, and not necessary to her enjoyment of the stories. Course I then had to point out that she hadn't actually enjoyed the books, she thought that they were over-rated and 'chick lit - olden day stylee'. She's totally entitled to think that. No one has to like books just because I do. However, writing off an author and their books without having actually taken the time to read them properly really irritated me.
See, there is totally a place for skim reading. In my head, it's ideal for text books - finding that vital passage, seeking out one particular note amongst many others - or for books and pieces that you've already read in detail and are looking for a quick refresher.

For fiction though - I'm not sure it's the most appropriate approach to take. To appreciate a book, to really get the most out of it - I think that you need to be willing to sacrifice a little bit of time to it. Books are usually more nuanced and subtle then a skim read will allow. 

My mate is unlikely to read these Austen books again. They aren't her thing, and it's up to her whether or not she decides to give them another go. A few days after our chat though she did call me up and say that she was about to tackle Jane Eyre. She promised NOT to discuss it with me if she skims through it though, laughing that I take the whole reading thing waaaaay too seriously. 

Maybe she's right.

Though I can't say I see anything wrong with that!








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