The charismatic CEO of a Fortune 500 company stepped up to the podium of a packed auditorium. He chronicled his rise from the mailroom to the boardroom. He confessed to living in constant fear that his secret would be revealed.
That secret: He never learned to read.
A page of print is as inaccessible to me as it was to that man.
He never learned to read. I read too well.
How is it possible to read too well?
I visually correct the spelling and the grammar. I rearrange the sentences. I improve on the choice of words. I psychoanalyze the author.
None of this is intentional. I do it in spite of myself.
I get bogged down. I start reading the same sentence over and over.
I count how many pages like the one I am stuck on there are between it and the end of the book. I am overwhelmed. I am exhausted.
I have to put my head down on the desk and take a nap.
By the time I was 7, I had been labeled a slow reader. A good reader, but a slow one.
I reached my mid-20s living a lie. Those who knew me best thought I had read thousands of books. It was more like dozens. I felt like such a fraud. And I was missing all that wonderful reading.
I enrolled in Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, the world-famous “speed-reading” course that promised not to sacrifice comprehension or retention.
The Evelyn Wood course is about the solidity of focus.
The what of what?
We learn in school to read each word separately. Evelyn Wood calls this “hard focus.”
When we view a landscape painting, we don’t think “tree,” “bush,” “flower,” “rock,” “stream.” Instead, we instinctively take in the whole scene at the same time. Evelyn Wood calls this “soft focus.”
The object is to read the page the way we “read” the painting.
The tool for achieving this is the human hand. Turn it over with the palm up and the fingers extended. Zigzag it rapidly down the page, forcing the eye to follow the fingertips.
Then practice, practice, practice.
I gladly accepted that advice, but ironically, the more I practiced, the more my hard focus intensified.
The biggest misconception about the Evelyn Wood course is that it is “skimming.” It is anything but.
The instructor is careful to remind the student to follow his fingertips beyond the bottom line of print on each page.
Evelyn says that everything the eye perceives, the brain retains. It may have to be retrieved from a deeper tier of the subconscious, but it is in there somewhere.
Was there something in my subconscious that was blocking me from the blessings of Evelyn Wood?
People use hypnosis to stop smoking and lose weight. Could the power of suggestion unleash my inner Evelyn?
I consulted a professional hypnotist. He deemed my idea feasible and relished the prospect of expanding his services in a new direction.
But it didn’t work.
A subsequent effort by a different hypnotist was just as unsuccessful. It seems that I am a poor subject for hypnosis.
Am I doomed to a future of hard focus?
I devote a high percentage of my waking hours to reading, but my return on investment is meager. I am reduced to reading newspaper columns, magazine articles and book reviews (instead of the real thing). Even this is a strain.
I sometimes pick a topic for my column that forces me to read a book. The only way I can get through it is to read it out loud. Reading a book out loud is the antithesis of soft focus. Evelyn would be shocked.
Barbara Presnell’s Jan. 31 column inspired me to write this column. After a dalliance with technology, she is rediscovering the joy of “devouring” books. She is regaining what I have yet to experience.
I’ll eventually figure this out.
I’m only 69.
Next week I may try again to get past page 37 of “Atlas Shrugged.”
Barney W. Hill recommends to his fellow readers George F. Will’s recent column, “What we lost when everyone stopped binge reading books.”