The War on Reading


By Julia Wojciechowski

In November 2007, Amazon released the first generation Kindle device. Some people, the ones responsible for it selling out in five and a half hours, were ecstatic. Others, myself included, were gutted. We were of the idea that our beloved paperback was suddenly on the verge of extinction. But six years later, we realise that the Ereader revolution was not so much of a threat after all. Sure, book sales dropped a little and everywhere you look on a bus or a plane, someone’s traded in their 300g novel for an almost weightless screen. But the paperback still exists, bookstores are still around (though there are fewer), and we, as a culture, see that nothing can ever replace the paperback.

In a sense, the rise of the Ereader started a war on the preservation of literature. Die hard book enthusiasts, english majors and writers everywhere were adamant that this simply was not the way that stories were meant to be read. We have to smell the book, we have to turn the page, we need coffee stains and fingerprints as proof that we have been there. Whether you embrace Ebooks or hate them, it’s time to put our differences aside for now as we face a new war on literature and this one is much more personal. It is the war on reading.

Spritzing, as it has been dubbed, is the act of reading up to 1,000 words a minute. This has been made possible by a new speed reading program by a Boston-based tech company, Spritz, that promises to help you read a novel in under 90 minutes without having to move your eyes. Wait- what?

It’s true. The program manipulates text word format, limits your eye movement and shortens your brains processing time. The company claims that “spritzing” can be learned in less than five minutes, and they even let you have a go on their website. You can read more about Spritzing on the link below, because I’ve already said and heard enough. The point of me bringing this to your attention, is that I don’t want people to forget what reading a novel is about. It’s not about reading it in under 90 minutes. It’s not about finishing it as fast as you can. Reading is a journey, as George RR. Martin said, ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.’ And I’m sure if I had the pleasure of speaking to George RR. Martin, he would add that the person who reads at 300+wpm lives zero, because they’re reading so damn fast that their life is over before it’s begun.

As a writer, I don’t want anyone to read my work at this unnatural speed. It is an insult to the hard work and carefulness that I put into choosing those words. As a reader, I never want to read something so quickly that I can’t recall it in great detail. The way that I memorised the opening sonnet in Romeo and Juliet when I was 13, was by savouring each word and taking my slow, sweet time. I haven’t forgotten a bar of it.

This technology will arrive soon, and it won’t be the first, and it won’t be the fastest. This is only the beginning of the war on reading; a war designed to stop our eyes from moving, to stop our hands from turning, and to make the entire process as robotic as possible.

My advice to everyone who supports the literary world and all that it stands for, is to keep reading slowly. Read slow enough to wander through the pages. Read slow enough to let your imagination loose. Read so slow that you read between the lines, and let yourself get stuck there for a moment, knowing that there are people out there reading one word at a time, without blinking, and they simply don’t have this luxury.


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