Ever since the wheel tumbled into existence, we’ve looked to technology to help us do more with less. When we rolled out the printing press, publishing was revolutionized, and books began reaching readers in unprecedented numbers. Flash forward to today, and we’ve got a crop of new speed-reading platforms promising that their new way of presenting text minimizes the time and effort it takes to get through a book. But the new ways are often not the best ways (R.I.P. Google Wave; best of luck, Neil Young), and many people prefer to read at their own pace.
Companies like Spritz eliminate the slight inefficiencies of eye movement — beaming words directly at your eyeballs á la Clockwork Orange — allowing you to go from the plodding national average reading speed of about 300 wpm to a bionic 600 wpm in the (tortuously slow) blink of eye. So wouldn’t spritzing be a great solution to the stacks of books stacked on your desk? Isn’t speed-reading perfect for people who don’t have the time? Maybe if you’re reading simply for information, but not if you’re reading the joy and beauty of literature.
The shortcuts that speed-reading offers uproot the rhythm of sentences, and trample the pacing of a paragraph. How can you feel suspense, or hear the poetry of language, when every word strikes you with metronomic efficiency?
The ease of speed-reading might be appealing to those who find the act of reading intimidating; for instance, 23 percent of Americans didn’t read a book in the last year. But there are other ways to make it easier to spend time with literature that don’t necessitate the literacy equivalent of doping. There’s Rooster, a brand new startup that curates two books (one classic, one contemporary) each month and delivers them in easy-to-read 15-minute installments for a low monthly subscription fee. For those who want access to more books, Oyster will give you access to 200,000 books for under ten dollars a month. There’s also Recommended Reading, the magazine I co-founded with Halimah Marcus, which publishes one story a week for free to Tumblr, as well as to Kindle and our app.
For anyone looking for a quick read that’s still worth spending some time with, here are 15 eclectic and excellent stories you can read in fewer than 15 minutes at a 300 wpm average reading speed.
“Antiheroes” by George Saunders
Reading time: five minutes
What if you had superpowers? What if they didn’t work most of the time, or really at all? What do you really need to know about this story other than that it’s written by George Saunders? The man is practically a superhero of the short form.