The benefits of eating slowly and reading quickly

Finding the balance between speed and enjoyment

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People are often criticised for eating too quickly — “you’re not enjoying the food”, “you should savour the flavour”. Eating slowly has also been shown to promote earlier satiety and reduce weight gain.

But when I read books, even for pleasure, I still try to read them as quickly as possible. Am I taking the wrong approach?

A distinction can be made which suggests an answer: there is a more definite upper limit to the amount of food you can eat than there is for the number of books you can read.

If you read a book more quickly, this will create time to read more books. This is not true of food — once you’ve eaten a meal quickly, you are full and will have to wait for the next allocated meal time to enjoy another one.

Let’s say you read a book at 1.5x the ‘normal’ speed. Practically speaking, this may involve not re-reading sections that you weren’t 100% sure about and not stopping to ponder certain elements of the book while reading (you can still ponder later, of course).

This would thus enable you to read 1.5x the number of books you otherwise would. As long as the enjoyment from reading one book at 1.5x speed is more than 66% of the enjoyment reading at 1x speed, then this is a ‘rational’ way to read books. (Note: this law does not continue indefinitely — reading a book at 3x speed may not provide >33% of the enjoyment as it may not be possible to appreciate the book at all)

However, there is an additional factor at play. There are millions of fantastic books that have been written, yet in our lifetime we will only read a tiny fraction of these. Of the books which grace the ‘great classics’ or ‘100 books you must read before you die’ lists, there are certain that will appeal to our interests and others that won’t. Different books present different unique perspectives of the author and the appeal thus depends on the reader. Some books may radically change the perceptions of one reader but have minimal effect on another.

Therefore, it is not simply a case of totaling up the enjoyment by multiplying ‘enjoyment per book’ by ‘number of books read’. We must also consider how many ‘perception-altering’ (or ‘life-changing’ although it sounds cliché) books someone reads. In these cases, the enjoyment goes way beyond the actual experience of reading the book and involves a longer and deeper enjoyment of appreciating the world in a different light.

In this way, I believe that reading more books has an exponential relationship with enjoyment and therefore it makes logical sense to increase the number of books that we read, both by spending more time reading and reading at a faster rate.

The same can’t be said for eating, however, as that’s a sure-fire route to obesity…

Data Scientist + Junior Doctor in London, Cambridge medicine grad, striving to improve healthcare through technology and education.

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