You Could Speed-Read This In 10 Seconds, but Why?

I turned away to stir my pot of foaming spaghetti while Mr. Mega Speed-Reader on TV demonstrated his course, guaranteed to have you reading at warp speed in just four easy installments of $8.95 each. Before I could tame the pasta, the man devoured a 330-page biography on Tiger Woods.

"I can read a book this size in 10 minutes," he said, looking as modest as possible for a mega-achiever.

He slipped into his glasses and rubber thumb, took a deep breath, and began flipping pages faster than I can dig popcorn from a bag.

He blotted his brow and exhaled while the TV interviewer quizzed him to make sure he had retained something and not merely exercised his wrists. Of course he knew that Tiger was only 10 months old when he picked up a sawed-off putter. Why, that was on Page 23.

"Isn't that amazing, folks?" the interviewer marveled and flashed the toll-free number to order the course.

Isn't that ridiculous?

I don't doubt that the man could read a John Grisham novel while waiting for the traffic light to change. But why would anyone want to?

For at least a decade, my goal has been to speed-cook, speed-toilet-clean, and speed-lecture the kids so I can sit down and spend two weeks savoring a book, if I so desire.

Racing through a novel is like speed-eating a two-layer box of chocolates. You're left with a bunch of frilly little wrappers in 10 minutes, while the guy who's savoring every lick still has 17 chocolates in his box, including two chocolate cherries.

Now who's ahead?

I have a hunch that Mr. Mega Speed-Reader is a former quality-control manager who had an extra 36 minutes one day, a dangerous predicament, and the promise of an office with a window if he found the company a big wad of wasted time. He looked around and saw one of the employees leisurely reading Dave Barry on his lunch break.

Reading. Now there's an unregulated activity, he told himself. Why, he'd heard of some dawdlers reading a favorite book two or three times. How often had he preached "handle the paper one time only"?

The manager, Mr. Mega Speed-Reader, immediately formed a committee to overhaul reading. "People are entirely too casual and relaxed about this reading business," he told the members. "Let's add some deadlines, some pressure, some stress. Let's find the formula for optimum reading speed with at least 90 percent information retention. Readers need to sweat."

One committee member suggested distilling all books into Cliff Notes and cutting reading time to mere seconds. "Just think: You could read 10 novels in 10 minutes!"

Mr. Mega Speed-Reader drooled at the thought, but said it was too revolutionary.

Another suggested putting audiobooks on fast-forward. "It'll sound awkward at first, but people will get used to hearing Alvin and the Chipmunks read Tolstoy."

"First things first," said Mega. "I'm out of here and buying a TV spot to sell my new speed-reading course. Why read a book one word at a time when you can gulp it in chapters?"

Guaranteed, or your money - and all that wasted time - back.

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