Confessions of a Slow Reader

Joyce Ann BrownJoyce Ann Brown writes essays for local publications in the Kansas City area, and her about-to-be launched first novels, two books of a cozy mystery series, are set in Kansas City, Missouri and its Kansas suburbs. Her protagonist earns a living as a landlady of rental properties, and when special tenants become involved with murder and mayhem, Beth must react. The klutzy, reluctant sleuth pushes headlong into dangerous clue-seeking situations, because she cares passionately about the people and places involved. Her unpredictable cat friend (appropriately nicknamed Psycho Cat) figures prominently in the alternately scary and amusing plots. See Joyce Ann’s Blog at:


My third grade teacher placed me in the Yellow Birds’ reading group. Not a speedy Blue Bird or even an average Red bird, I became a plodding Yellow Bird. To be fair, my family moved in September, and I had missed the first few weeks of school. The teacher, bless her good intentions, made the placement so I could catch up. I guess. I never did. A teacher has a hard time skipping a kid through missed material to another level. I suffered through having to listen to the oral reading from that group of canaries for the rest of the year.

Somewhere between third grade and high school, I either caught up or made up for it and graduated third out of 525 in my senior class. I still plodded through the reading, though. At the elite university which gave me a scholarship, I found myself surrounded by brilliant people. In all likelihood, none of them ever even sat close to a Yellow Bird in grade school. The Dean of Students recommended I enroll in the university’s special speed-reading class.

I tried to pick up the pace; I really did. I practiced all of the techniques—things like skimming sentences for clues to meaning and using a pen or finger to take in a whole line at a time. But speed reading didn’t stick. I graduated third in my university class, too, but I did it by laboring through my slow-paced study times.

I blanch at blog posts in which the bloggers bemoan the fact they can borrow only six e-books at a time from the library and that reading a book a day is normal for them. It takes me a day to just to select a book to read.

Whenever I have to share reading material—at a class or a workshop or even at a restaurant—I quit reading before the end of each page so my partner won’t get impatient waiting for me to turn the page. By the time most people have read an entire section of the newspaper, I’m still digesting one feature story or an editorial.

Now for my confession—I do not apologize for being a slow reader. As a children’s librarian, I read hundreds of picture books, intermediate novels, and YA books every school year and enjoyed them immensely. While reading children’s books, I translated them into summaries for book talks or dramatizations for storytelling. At the same time, I always read at least one adult book a month for my book club and then pigged out on trade books and classics over the summers.

Nowadays, as always, whether reading War and Peace, A is for Alibi, or Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, I savor words and passages. I read and reread sentences and paragraphs, either to better understand the intent or just because I love the sound and feel of the prose.

What about my writing? Also slow and ponderous—plodding, perhaps. (I haven’t tried NaNoWriMo. Will I ever?) Whether writing expository or narrative text, I must consider, replace, and relocate as I go. That doesn’t mean I don’t revise several times after I finish. Re-edit, revise, rewrite—tortoise-like.

In his essay, “Good Readers and Good Writers,” Vladimir Nabokov said, “In reading [or writing] one should notice and fondle details.” Right on, Vladimir dear, none of that slam, bam, thank you ma’am for me.

Some lucky readers are buried under books. I feel lucky to be buried under words, phrases, mental images, and thoughts.


8 thoughts on “Confessions of a Slow Reader

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I read one book a month, occasionally two.

    I would love to be able to bam through a book, because then I could read more books. But while I’d likely come away with a decent sense of the story, I’m afraid I’d miss the sublety and nuance and poetry and rhythm. Might as well read a synopsis.


  2. I’m not a slow reader, but always wonder what those grade school labels do to the kids. I read quickly when I’m reading action scenes, but like to slow down to savor poetic passages. I don’t think you’re missing anything by reading at your own pace, Joyce. Do you think you would be a faster reader if you’d been a bird of a different color?

    Congratulations on the upcoming series debut! I wish you much success.


  3. My speed often depends on the nature of the book. I read through a mystery at a decent pace, though not fast, and read through serious nonfiction very slowly. I was a copy editor for many years and trained myself to read slowly, carefully, and never got over it. I don’t’ regret it. I’m not convinced speed readers get more out of a book, and I enjoy the process, experience of reading as well as the book.


  4. I’m a Missouri girl too! Born in Jeff City, lived in St. Louis for 6 years, KC for 5. Now I live in Portland, Oregon, but my upcoming thriller is set in KC and surrounds. I’ll have to read your books!


  5. I guess I’m the pale Yellow variety. It takes me longer than a month to read a book, but that’s partly because I read mostly on my Kindle while waiting in doctor’s offices and such. When I get close to the end, I’ll attach my rear to the recliner and plod to the finish line. I took a speed reading course once but it didn’t stick. I know the effort it takes to come up with just the right phrases, and I can’t in good conscience skip merrily over another author’s hard work.


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