Does Reading Too Fast Make You Forget? (Part 2)

Halleck presents his solution: how to read novels without frying your brain.

In part 1, we heard our friend Reuben Halleck blast the “rapid devouring of novels” as “fatal to thought”. (This was 1895, remember.) Now, in part 2, we hear his solution.

How do you read novels without frying your brain? Choose your own adventure.

Why is this relevant? Well, I don’t know about you, but when I try to remember the last few novels I read … yeah. Let’s see what he proposes.

Solution: Choose Your Own Ending(s)

How Fiction May Serve to Cultivate Thought – Since fiction is certain to be widely read, it is important to know how it may be made to cultivate the thinking powers. If persons would read a novel with the same care as a history, as much mental discipline might result.

Every move of the character in fiction ought to be compared with actions in real life.

Would real persons develop new emotions and change old ones as quickly and for the same reasons as those on the printed page? …

Whoa. That’s intense.

Thought consists essentially in comparing, in noting likenesses and differences; and it cannot be repeated too often that all mental exercise of this sort tends to cultivate thought in the only true way.

Again, after finishing one chapter, the reader ought to endeavor to forecast the following chapter. When the hero and heroine are plunged into difficulties, or the action seems in general to be taking the wrong course, the reader should lay down his book and ask himself how he would set things right, how he would avoid a certain catastrophe. By so doing, he will develop the power of constructive thought.

He will also shatter the spell and grind to a halt. Won’t he?

Or could we learn to enjoy this kind of creativity?

This practice would serve him in good stead in the actual difficulties of his own life. He would think his way out of trouble quicker….

It would be considerable trouble to read a novel in the way indicated, to forecast each chapter, and to devise as many ways as possible of unraveling the plot…

Yes. Yes it would.

… but the results would be worth the trouble. It is always more work to mine gold than coal….

The novels of Scott, Dickens, Reade, Collins, are, many of them, no less remarkable for their insight into human nature than for the ingenuity of their plots. In these they are immeasurably superior to the majority of later writers. These older authors will furnish plenty of material for the exercise of constructive thought.

Again, “later” here means circa 1895. Ironically, one such later writer, E. M. Forster, would inveigh against Scott in Aspects of the Novel precisely for Scott’s lack of insight into human nature, and his obsession with mere plotting.

You might think Halleck is missing the entire point of novels. We don’t read novels to think in the first place! But novelists themselves might disagree (again, Forster springs to mind).

Taking a “Choose Your Own Adventure” break every chapter sounds rather extreme. But hearing extreme solutions can be helpful. They can open up interesting vistas of more humane solutions.

I, at least, have often been at the other extreme, where I’m reading so fast that I barely visualize any of the characters, or experience the scenes. In Aspects of the Novel, Forster articulates this mere “hunger” for plot twists – and castigates it just as severely as Halleck.

If you eat too fast, you can’t digest. But if you really eat too fast, you can’t even taste it.

People talk about slow food. What about slow reading? Forget about the stern injunctions to ceaseless self-improvement. What if reading more slowly would simply mean more enyjoment?

I’m just glad Halleck wasn’t around for Netflix. Or speed reading. Or … blogs.

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