My novel To Be Frank, is going through the editing process with my publisher’s team; essential to releasing a book. I love writing and enjoy the editing of content and organisation, but I do find the detailed grammar and presentation aspects challenging. Having no qualifications in English Language or Literature, since O levels in 1970, it’s easy to feel inadequate. My medical degrees, scientific background and years of writing healthcare notes don’t seem to help.
I’ve always read a lot but am a relatively slow reader, over-using the technique of sub-vocalisation I suspect, which commonly achieves about 250 words per minute. Visual reading, at approximately 700 words per minute, is at the other extreme. Apparently, proficient readers are able to read at 280-350 words per minute without compromising comprehension. When editing one surely has to slow read and going through an 88,000 manuscript takes time.
During my research into ways of reading, I went off piste and, leaving the editing process behind, I discovered so many styles of reading I’d never thought about in specific terms. Here are just a few snippets:
The concept of ‘speed reading’ began in the late 1950s and can involve skimming and searching sentences for clues, or scanning where one looks for information in a sentence with the use of a mind map to organise it in a visually hierarchical manner. Meta-guiding is another technique, involving the visual guiding of the eye using a finger or a pointer.
The other end of the spectrum is ‘slow reading’, which is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading to increase comprehension and pleasure. It originated in the study of philosophy and literature and there’s been an increase in interest in slow reading as a result of the ‘slow movement’ and its focus on a deceleration of the pace of modern life. (Close reading or deep reading is the use of slow reading in literary criticism). Sven Birkerts, an American essayist and literary critic, says in The Gutenberg Elegies (1994) that “Reading, because we control it, is adaptable to our needs and rhythms”.
Typoglycemia, incidentally, is the ability to read jumbled words. It is thought that to see the first and last letters of a word, in the right place, is all that matters and that’s why we can so often solve the puzzles posted on social media, for example ‘I bte yuo cn rd ths sntnc’ or ‘do oyu fnid this smilpe to raed?’ Maybe that’s also why we can’t always see our own mistakes?
So, I’m voting for slow reading when I next read a novel, with a bit of skimming and a dose of typoglycemia, and meanwhile I give thanks to my editors for helping with the hard grind and time consuming work of copy-editing and proofreading.