When introducing writing classes, I take a moment and walk across the room toward a podium 15 feet away. I walk two or three steps, then back-step a pace or two, making the walk bumpy and inefficient. The second time I walk to it, I go directly without any back stepping, while asking “Which trip was more efficient?” Duh.
Yet the bumpy way typified my reading until after I had a BA degree. I did it in ignorance. No wonder reading had been unduly tedious and physically draining. Change came in an unexpected way. After graduation, my wife and I moved to San Diego for four months before my first deployment in the navy. One day a knock on the door brought a cut rate offer for a reading course and a set of books from the classics. We enrolled and had a great time, strange as that sounds. The course was based on Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book.
The first session introduced eliminating regression, something I had never heard of. Regression means reading a few words and then dropping back so that the next few words taken in by the eye include one or more words that you already read—thus, the podium illustration.
Regression makes reading labor intensive as well as inefficient. You work harder and get less done. To eliminate regression, make your eyes follow your fingers as they move across the text. If you have been regressing, your eyes will react to this new demand as strange, and they will want to revert to jerking back and forth like always—that is, until they get the message, “No go with that anymore.”
The difference is radical. One result is increased speed for no other reason than the end of reading words more than once. Rhythms of a text will stand out more since prose can be musical in its feel. Though there isn’t audio melody, lyrical qualities come through more, and the mind experiences the beauty of the text.
The point isn’t to force speed reading but to let speed adjust to need without regression’s physical disruption. Some texts come in narrow columns, but if a normal page is in view, I find it hard to read without using a pacing device. I don’t like the feel of pages, so I use a closed ball point pen and run it across the lines. That works nicely.
A lot of books would have gone down smoothly in school had I known that regression existed. Oh well, I’m more appreciative that it got discovered and solved. Though not positive about most people that knock on the door, I eagerly say that this one was worth it.