Monday, 27 May 2024

A ruthless speed reading technique for tackling mountains of unopened books

The Japanese word tsundoku translates as “the act of buying a book and leaving it unread, typically next to a pile of other unread books.” That the word has no equivalent in other languages seems strange when you consider how many of us are guilty of tsundoku almost every time we purchase reading material.

An effective tsundoku-busting technique is to select five or six of your unread books, take them to the sofa, and read each for exactly five minutes. For best results set an alarm on your phone or, better still, stopwatch. Perhaps it’s the pressure and concentration that a five-minute session creates but you’ll be surprised by how much you can read in that time, and how much of a sense of a book you can gain. The difference between having read Proust for zero minutes and having read him for five may be small but it is also significant. In just two short sessions with ‘Swann’s Way’ you’ll even reach the most famous passage in the whole book – also known as “the part about the madeleines.”

The obvious benefit of doing this is as a kind of literary speed-dating, helping you decide which titles you’d like to commit to reading in full. But more than that, book-hopping has entertainment value in its own right. In half an hour you can take in a glimpse of Renaissance history, an item of design theory, a ghost story, an anecdote from a celebrity memoir, and the intro to a cookbook. Assembling one’s tsundoku stack becomes an exciting ritual. You find yourself buying books for the joy of reading them for five minutes, every so often. This is surely a step up from never at all.

From Fantastic Man n° 25 — 2017