Productivity Skills: David Butler teaches you to read faster


If I’d be promised to read more than two books a day, I’d be triggered to call it a scam. Mainly because I have experimented with many Speed Reading books, videos, courses, etc. For example, Tim Ferriss’ “Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes” or the in depth Lynda course “Speed Reading Fundamentals“. All of them failed. The only effect they had on me: I started to move my head while reading—a funny habit that I’m still trying to get rid of.

Despite the failed attempts, I wanted to read faster, reading 200 wpm felt like a disability. I kept searching the Internet and accidentally stumbled on “Reading with the Right Brain” by David Butler. It sounded a lot like “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards. I had great results with Betty’s book, I expected the same from David’s book. After reading this book:

  • You will discover all the speed reading exercises that DON’T work
  • You will know the realistic speed reading ranges to aim for
  • You will improve your comprehension 

Forget “finger movements” or “skipping unimportant words”. You have to put all your attention on what you are reading not how fast you are reading.

Something specific I really like

The saddest part about speed reading: most of the exercises are a waste of time. The author of the book describes all of them, and made a list of the most famous ones. If you have tried speed reading before, then you will recognise many of these exercises:

  • Push your speed. This is the most common speed reading exercise. It goes like this: you will develop a habit of seeing words faster, your comprehension will adapt to higher speed and improve on its own.
  • Finger waving patterns. This exercise started with Evelyn Wood, who’s a famous speed reader. According to the story, she dropped a book, after picking it up and dusting off the dirt, she had an epiphany and could suddenly read at “supersonic speeds”. Here are some of her exercises: the “S Hand Motion”, the “Question Mark”, the “X Hand Motion”, ….
  • Eye exercises. This began after Emile Javal‘s discovery in 1897—that faster readers made fewer stops when reading a line of text. Students had to “widen the eye span” and move their eyes faster. This exercise doesn’t work because your eyes are already quick, but your mind is slow. There is nothing to see, until your mind sees it.
  • Subvocalization distractions. This exercise wants you to repeat nonsense sounds aloud in your head. Then you won’t hear the words you are reading. For example, you recite the vowels “A E I O U” over and over while reading a book and following your finger across each line of text.
  • Skipping unimportant words. To read faster, simply read fewer words. You can skip all those “unimportant” words. But, if you are going to skip any words at all, you have to know which words you are skipping. You could as well use the extra mental energy for comprehension.
  • PhotoReading. Developed by Paul Scheele in 1993. He claims that you can read with only a quick glance at a page. Sounds wonderful? Works only if you are autistic or injured the brain’s left hemisphere.

Another thing I really like

Forget the people who can read 1000 or 41, 000 words per minute. They are either autistic, brain damaged, or fakes. According to the book, these are the “real speed reading speeds” and categories to aim for:

  • 1 out of 2 adults can read 200 WPM (“slow” readers)
  • 1 out of 10 adults can read 300 WPM (“good” readers)
  • 1 out of 100 adults can read 400 WPM (“fast” readers)
  • 1 out of 1,000 adults can read 600 WPM (“speed” readers)

In order to read faster, you need to comprehend faster. You can achieve this by visualizing the ideas of meaningful word groups. You aren’t reading random word chunks, but meaningful “idea chunks”.

When you give your brain visual images, you will remember the text better and improve your concentration. Which means, mind-wandering will be a thing of the past.

This type of reading isn’t new. It originates from Germany, about 1840. Advocated by Horace Mann and other educators. They called it “whole word method” of reading. People used to teach their children to read this way.

Whole word or Whole language” reading taught the visual recognition of whole words before giving any attention to letter-names or letter-sounds. They later extended it to whole sentences. This way units of thought were introduced first. Words and letters came last.

This type of reading was popular during the 1920s and 30s. The emphasis was on silent reading, instead of oral reading. They found that the ability to read orally did not mean you could read silently. Yet, the pendulum has swung back toward phonics, which had never left the curriculum.

PS! To my surprise, the book came with a free online course, consisting of 12 lessons. The first eight concentrate mainly on comprehension, by flashing meaningful word chunks. After that you start reading the usual way—a page filled with text.