Does Reading Too Fast Make You Forget? (Part 1)

Trying to read faster? You might be forgetting more.

I’m on a mission to figure out how to remember what I read. Could one problem be that I read too much? Too fast?

In part 1 of this week’s “Saturday Selection”, author Reuben Post Halleck inveighs against the “rapid devouring of novels” as “fatal to thought”.

I’ll stand back while you gag.

Done? It’s amazing how a 19th century dude can alienate you from beyond the grave in a mere seven words.

But hear him out. He’s not hating on fiction. The problem is rapid reading – whether it’s novels, newspapers, or medical journals. “Information overload” isn’t a new problem.

Halleck has a unique solution, at least for novel readers. I’m not sure what I think of it … but the answer probably does lie in this direction. I’ll let him explain.

Mental Digestion Takes Time

Effect of Novel Reading on Thought – For proper nutrition, it is necessary that food should remain a certain length of time in the stomach. Digestion, mental or physical, takes time.

Ideas must be kept in the mind until their relations to other ideas can be thought out. No mental nutriment can be received from them if they pass through the mind at a galloping pace.

In our study of memory, we saw that rapidly skimming over a subject to pass an examination brought no permanent results, because things did not stay long enough before the mind for it to connect them to other things by their relations. Acquisitions of this sort speedily pass out of the mind.

The rapid devouring of novels is fatal to thought. No idea is allowed to linger; the mind rushes on from one exciting scene to another in as quick succession as possible, ever calling for more excitement.

One novel is finished and another begun. No time is left for perfect digestion.

Libraries: The Villains!

The circulation of many general libraries averages eighty per cent of fiction. They deserve to be known as aiders and abettors in killing thought.

When’s the last time you heard someone take a pot shot at libraries?

The minds of inveterate novel readers are apt soon to become so unsuited to severe thought, that they regard it with as much aversion as a rheumatic person does a foot race.

This from 1895. Today, finishing an entire novel is an intellectual achievement. In some circles, it’s an act of minor heroism.

But just swap in “inveterate tweeters” or “inveterate Facebook addicts,” and we’ll bring this diatribe up-to-date.

I’d love to brush Halleck off. But deep in my gut, I know that I, at least, have read way too many novels, books, and articles way too fast.

The hard question: why? When I read so fast, am I really looking for growth? Or only distraction?

Next time: Halleck’s solution.

(A selection from: Psychology and Psychic Culture
Reuben Post Halleck, M.A., 1895
Some headers, paragraph breaks, and emphasis added.
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