When speeding is not illegal – but you could miss a lot
Do you read quickly? Are you a speed reader or do you prefer to read slowly, getting right into the story, visualising the characters and the places being described?
I’m a fairly slow reader although I’ve speeded up considerably in the last few decades.
I used to read very slowly. I don’t know why and I’m not conscious of having problems learning to read. I wonder if perhaps I read something out loud at school and was reprimanded by a teacher for speaking too quickly. Perhaps I then trained myself to read more slowly.
My husband was a very fast reader. I used to watch him sometimes, marvelling at the way his eyes went down one page, up and down the next at a ridiculous pace. How could he absorb the sense of what he was reading at such speed? (He could do better than that – he could come out with that same information, word for word, months later when someone said, ‘I wonder why . . . ?’) At one point I worried about my own snail’s pace, especially at work where I had to read a lot of documents and printouts of information. I even asked if I could do a speed-reading course but was immediately castigated for even raising the subject and told firmly that I couldn’t.
At university I was hampered by my reading speed. I studied English Literature and we had to read one book during each of the three terms of the year. Term one’s book was Bleak House by Dickens; I managed to finish it by the middle of February. In term two it was George Eliott’s Middlemarch which I loved but it was a long book and it was well into the third term before I got to the end. I can’t remember what the third term’s book was but I didn’t get round to reading it at all.
In the third year of my degree I was studying celtic languages and history. In the exam at the end of the first term there was a question about one of the set books we had to read dealing with Scottish History. I hadn’t read it but I knew quite a lot about its subject. When I got my paper back at the beginning of the next term there was a note written in red biro next to my answer which read: ‘It is necessary to read the book before answering the question.’ Yes, well, I knew that, but at least I tried.
When after various skirmishes with being a secretary which I didn’t enjoy, working in a museum as a research assistant which was a bit tedious, and spending time as a ‘temp’ in a posh advertising agency where just about everyone on the staff – except me – went down with a virulent bug and I spent a couple of weeks happily buying advertising space in the national broadsheets for clients, without really having a clue about what I was doing but knowing I would have left the job before those newspapers were printed.
Eventually I found the world of publishing and editing and knew I had found my niche.
Suddenly, I realised that my slow reading speed was a very useful advantage when it came to editing and proofreading. I had the time to look carefully at words and the patterns that the letters made and soon I found I could quickly spot mistakes.
To me the letters in a word do make patterns and after a while one gets to know them, almost subconsciously, and when there is a mistake – for example two letters transposed, a letter that’s wrong or a letter missing – it brings you up short, like tripping over a stone on a path.
An ability to spot errors can be a very useful skill. It can turn you into a hero because you have spared the writer the embarrassment of a rather glaring error in the middle of their piece of prose. I once came across someone in an article destined for a large customer magazine for a high street bank who was described as ‘a Relationship Mango’. It should, of course, have been ‘Relationship Manager’ but perhaps the writer’s mind was elsewhere. But, equally, it can lead to you finding yourself dubbed an ‘extremely annoying person’. When I worked for a business publishing agency, the receptionist at the front desk was given the boring task of fulfilling the latest sales letter which sounds grand but is just folding the sales letter and stuffing it into an envelope so the address on the letter showed in the window at the front of the envelope. On this particular day, a stack of at least 100 crisp, new, sales letters was sitting on the desk alongside their envelopes. Our receptionist was delighted to be interrupted in her task in order to have a chat. While we talked, I happened to glance down at the top letter in the pile and immediately spotted a large and cringeworthy mistake in the headline at the start of the letter.
I had to point it out. I couldn’t just ignore it. When the receptionist saw it she said something very rude and then said ‘We could just not notice it.’ No,’ I said, we’re a publishing company, we don’t make embarrassing mistakes like that.’
I was not flavour of the month with the sales team after that as the letter had to be rewritten, copied 100 times in a rather temperamental copier and then folded and stuffed into the envelopes.
It’s a perfect example of one of my favourite Top Tips: always read over carefully what you have written, it only takes a moment but it could prevent a lot of heartache and wasted time.