Diary of a Speed Reader

Here is a picture of me reading… see, I do it like everyone else, with my eyes.

I typically quote my current speed at about 2400wpm, 250 pages/hr. In truth, I sometimes read faster and sometimes slower.

Reading is no different from any other skill. You don’t skim. There aren’t truly shortcuts.

You read. And just like at every other reading speed, you will find and sometimes not find spelling errors. You may notice, or not notice problems with grammar issues. You will have the same issues with logical flaws and poor writing. You will be frustrated and you will be overjoyed by terrible and great authors. You are just like everyone else … only your pace is faster.

This skill developed over a decade of working for some fairly demanding bosses. I remember the first time I realized my speed was higher than normal. I am a MASSIVE Potter fan. I had worked my typical 80 hour week and Sunday was my only day off. I woke up, picked up my pre-ordered copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows around noon from the bookstore and finished it around 7pm. Yup. Those were the days back in July 23 of 2007. This was just before the financial crisis took the last of the competing books stores to Barnes & Noble.

I would not even have realized that my speed was so fast, if it wasn’t for Mr. Potter. At the time, my reading speed was only around 1200wpm. The hedge fund business is crazy and that book came out on a Saturday, just as the Financial Crisis of 2007/2008 was brewing. My job was to hedge a multi billion dollar, multi-fund portfolio using quantitative means. I took it very seriously.

I most know most people don’t respect hedge fund folks. And yes, a lot of that money belonged to over-privileged rich people. But this fund had been in business for a long time. As a result, quite a lot of the assets also belonged to blue collar workers and teachers via the fund’s Pension Investors. These were people I grew-up with from my small-town-trailer-park-barely-pay-for-next-month’s-rent beginnings. For all the negative things you hear about finance folks, many take fiduciary responsibility very seriously.

When the markets are in crisis, everyone works late and on the weekends. Everyone in the office saw me leave late on Saturday, after any bookstore would have closed. Our office had an open platform set up. My 80 hour work week meant I was coming in at 6:30am. Between reading white papers, toiling over spreadsheets, a bit of light coding, Sunday was my only shot at getting my Potter fix before everyone was out with spoilers.

It was surprising to others as we all looked up from our monitors for lunch that Monday that I had finished the book on Sunday. To be frank, I was surprised that it was such a surprise. Everyone around me was so well-read. They went to Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia all the best schools. But they didn’t go for math like me.

They majored in the areas that required reading and extreme thoughtfulness. They came from rich families that had huge libraries in their own home. Heck, half of them had their name on a library somewhere.

The entire time I was there, I felt like I was less than everyone else. Reading was my way of playing catch up. It seemed like that was implicitly what people were asking me to do. Literally everyone seemed to have read more. They all seemed to be suggesting books I had never heard of and talking about them with great confidence.

When I had started with this hedge fund, I remember I was only reading about 60 pages per hour. My managers were all so well-read. There was no end to the constant stacks of recommendations. Without those books, I felt like I was locked out of even being able to have a conversation. And I needed that wisdom. The markets were falling and I didn’t have answers.

I was motivated and with each book I read, I was rewarded with a conversation and nuggets wisdom. This may sound like a paltry reward to some. Working in finance, though, you realize that the gift of time, truly focused time, is far greater than any other that one can receive. You learn not to take someone’s 10 or 20 minutes for granted. Sometimes you learn the hard way.

In retrospect, some people might have fake read the book, instead of doing what I did. And there’s a lot of people in finance and other fields that do just that.

I’m glad I didn’t. As a speed reader, I now know that those that have actually read a book can tell the difference. And I wasn’t working for fakers. Nope. This was a true group of nerds.

A lot of charlatan teachers will tell you that speed reading is about improving long term memory. In fact, I have a terrible memory, or at least long term memory. The actual skill is associative memory, and reading has its own unique way of developing that.

It’s fortunate though that I do not trust my memory. Remember, I’m wasn’t reading to sell a course or pretend I’m smarter than others. Quite the opposite. I was reading to be allowed to learn from others. In those days, I was far less confident. I started to write reviews on all of the books I read and put them in Livingsocial and later Goodreads.com when the former company pivoted to become a coupon seller. This allowed me a set of notes to review before I nervously would go in and talk to my bosses. It also allowed me to find citations quickly when I felt unsure of myself and my understanding.

In this way, I chanced upon something often missed by the charlatans. Reflection on what you read is actually central to retention. Writing notes is another way of reflecting. Going over your bookmarks after you’ve already finished the book is key. I’m a complete dolt when it comes to memorization. But I can def take notes in a way that I can later reference them.

My life took many turns since 2007. I never stopped reading, though I slowed down the number of books per year after graduate school. I later took a break for 3 years to travel the world. It was during that time that I collaborated to create a speed reading course.

For the first years after the course came out in Dec 2018, I did very little with it other than forwarding the link to random people who found me at Goodreads.com. It seemed that every time someone would find out, I would go through the same series of questions. The free course intro actually answers the most common FAQs.

But while it was good to get the course out of my head to a place others could gain from it, it doesn’t answer my question. It doesn’t respond to the reason I made the course in the first place. Namely, What should I do with this skill, precisely?

Part of the problem is that when people learn I’m a speed reader, the first response is disbelief. I’m not sure why anyone would lie about it, especially with a number as specific as 2400wpm. But it does turn out that quite a lot of people do lie about it. In fact, I met a whole group of them thinking I’d found my tribe. But no… <insert sad face emoji, but on my actual face>. They avoided me like the plague afterward.

While most people I ask are kind and thoughtful listeners, few believed I wasn’t lying about the skill. Others thought I was doing some sort of trick. Those folks I just direct to my Goodreads so they can look at my notes.

The few that do believe me didn’t have an answer. The question was just not something they had believed was possible. After many discussions, I realized that part of the problem is that the world has – for so long – held reading in such high regard, that speed reading is inconceivable. Really, though, it’s like any other skill. Many people use to believe that marathon running was only for people who resembled X-men. Nowadays, a marathon is still a stellar achievement, but it’s understood that it’s attainable for those that put the hard work in.

If I wanted the answers, I was going to have to be more public and show what speed reading looks like. If I was lucky, others might give it a try and those people would have reasons to want to do it!

I truly believe quite a lot of people already are speed readers. For the English, I personally count speed reading at between 400-500wpm (this number is explained in my course). While some may not be able to get to my speed, i.e. 2400 wpm, others will lap me like the thousands of people did when I ran the New York Marathon. I have heard the highest reading speeds are over 4000wpm. Those people are truly special. I’m not them. I’m just someone chanced into it.

I’m not trying to compete in some crazy world competition. And I didn’t take anyone’s course. Even if I did, I don’t think that would have done anymore then reading a book on running will help you become as fast as an olympic marathoner. The only uniqueness about my ability is that I had the misfortune/fortune of 1) being made to feel like I had to do it to keep my job and 2) being too clueless to realize that I’d shot far past a normal reading speed. In fact, if no one had said anything about the Harry Potter book that day, I would still be completely unaware I was reading that much faster than others.

As for the course, I think most speed reading courses are typically somewhere between half truths to bold face lies. The best materials on reading relate to dyslexia and other work done by actual doctors. Problem is most of that research maxes out at competency (150wpm). It’s not trying to get you past 300wpm.

Speed reading is like all other things. There are some specific skills you should know and then you practice. If you use wrong techniques, such as the flashing words technique I recently have seen, you will more likely have an epileptic episode than an improved reading ability. I’ve had people get really mad at me for saying. But truly, they are charlatans and in that regard, I’m glad I made the course (coupon here). Udemy changes policy without notice so Contact me if the link breaks.

I actually don’t care if you take this or any course. If it’s not something you want to do, don’t do it. I’d be just as thrilled if you follow, like, forward, or comment on my Instagram where I post a short vlog on book takeaways. I’d be EVEN more thrilled if you have ideas on my real question: What should I do with this skill?

This is why I started Diary of Speed Reader. If you have some ideas that do not involve helping you cheat in school or otherwise do something negative, message me. They can be for-profit. They can be to help humanity. Diary of a Speed Reader is about crowdsourcing. And I’d love to hear from you.

Sincerely,

May Ling