Time Regained
October 15, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

How many pages can you read in an hour?

The professor I work for is considering assigning reading by the hour in her course next semester, rather than by the page. She wants to get a sense of how much people can read in a given timespan, as well as what sort of range would result.

(The book in question will be Proust's In Search of Lost Time, if you want to factor that in.)
posted by BackwardsCity to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Your average novel? About 100 pages an hour. Something that requires careful thought? At best half that, I'd think.
posted by maxwelton at 10:20 AM on October 15, 2006

I average a page a minute.
posted by josher71 at 10:23 AM on October 15, 2006

Reading fiction for pleasure, between 50 and 200 pages per hour.

Proust for comprehension, maybe 20 to 30 pages an hour.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:28 AM on October 15, 2006

Well that also depends very much on the typeface, spacing, size of the page and so on, so it's hard to give an estimate.

Proust will definitely be slower than average though.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:30 AM on October 15, 2006

Yes, Proust is a huge slowing factor as a writer, though I don't know how the English translation compares to the French original. In French many of his sentences seem to go on longer than the page last.

My average reading speed is well above 1,000 words per minute, and that is fast.

With Proust, my reading speed will halt to a crawl, of say 200 words per minute. And I have to stop reading after every 10 minutes.
posted by ijsbrand at 10:34 AM on October 15, 2006

In my limited experience, teaching Proust (like some other difficult, long texts) seems to work best when you assign more than anyone could possibly read carefully who hadn't already read the text (perhaps making this explicit in the assignment) and then just hope everyone does their best to get through it. Otherwise a seminar on Swann's Way alone would take a semester or more, and the whole thing would take about three years (as it tends to do when people read it outside of class for pleasure). There are some texts that can't really be effectively and carefully read in the restricted time that one needs to give them so that they don't take over a whole curriculum. I like the approach of over-assigning, hoping that some have read the text before, and other students can do their best. Perhaps pre-assigning it over the preceding summer to students who plan ahead would help, too.

To answer the question directly, I read average skimmable scholarly essays at 2 pages/minute, fiction at 1 page/minute, and Proust at most at 20 pages/hour.
posted by RogerB at 10:45 AM on October 15, 2006

You might want to email OmieWise (if he doesn't show up in this thread by his own volition); he is a Proust fan and even kept a blog about ISOLT a while. I'd do it for you, but my tea is getting cold.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm a senior history major muddling through my thesis on St. Augustine, I have no experience with Proust, but Augustine's terrible too. Substitute Augustine's City of God for Proust's In Search of Lost Time for my answer.

Roughly one hour of complete focused skimming (which is all you can hope for for the first time through) is about 100-120 pages.
One hour of carefully devouring the text will give me about 50-60 pages.

Other scholarly reading/fictionwise, I can hit 200-300 pages in an hour. I would imagine that anyone wanting to study Proust would be equally as skilled with synthesizing readings.
posted by lilithim at 11:24 AM on October 15, 2006

Bordieu took me about 2 minutes/page after the initial adjustment period of 1 hour of freaking out that I had no idea what he was talking about. On subsequent readings, it's up to normal 1 minute/page scholarly non-skimming reading. I suppose it also varies as to what you're reading for - specific things or a comprehensive view of what the translated French means.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:43 AM on October 15, 2006

Are people who claim to read 50-100 pages per hour or more actually reading the words on the page or skimming?

I like to read, but can scarcely reach 50 pages an hour on anything. Perhaps I do actually have ADD as my wife suggests.

I'd go on the low side for Proust. I actually found Proust more absorbing than most things I read. Once you start into one of those enourmous sentences, its almost like a roller coaster ride just waiting to see where he's going to go with it.
posted by hwestiii at 11:44 AM on October 15, 2006

Wikipedia says that the average rate of reading for comprehension is 200-400 words per minute. Let's say 300, for simplicity's sake.

A quick Google search trying to find the average amount of words on a page is inconclusive, with estimates ranging from 250-1000 words, depending on the type of material. The majority of sources implied that 250 words per page is a safe estimate, but that sounds low to me, and a quick count of a random page of the paperback I've got on the desk next to me bears that out -- it's got 400 words per page.

So, even trying to find an "average" speed, I'm seeing a variation of between 45 pages per hour and 72 pages per hour. That's a huge difference.

But for Proust, no matter what number you estimate, or see quoted, cut it in half. It's dense, it's mentally taxing, and students have other things to read in addition to the one class.
posted by Hildago at 12:20 PM on October 15, 2006

Are people who claim to read 50-100 pages per hour or more actually reading the words on the page or skimming?

I don't see why you couldn't read a page or two a minute, reading every word on the page. That's only about 5-10 words a second, which isn't very fast at all. If I'm skimming I might read 10 pages a minute.
posted by kindall at 12:20 PM on October 15, 2006

Rather, the variation isn't between 45 and 72, the estimates were.
posted by Hildago at 12:21 PM on October 15, 2006

I zip through the light n' fluffy stuff.

Novels, on the other hand, are much slower for me. Oh, god . . . like 50-60 pages an hour if I'm lucky.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:25 PM on October 15, 2006

Generally, my reading speed for middlebrow literary fiction (assuming that I'm reading to appreciate style) averages about 50-60 pages an hour. I'm faster if I'm only reading for content, or if I'm reading commercial fiction. I'm slower for books written before the 20th century, or for philosophy, or for difficult nonfiction; I'm much slower for poetry--maybe three James Merrill poems in an hour, for example. I spent nearly an hour reading a very difficult fifteen-page chapter of Thomas Mann this morning.

When I read In Search of Lost Time at a time in grad school when I had nothing else to do (well, technically, I should have been writing my dissertation, but when was I going to have a block of free time that large to read Proust again in life?), it took me ten weeks, reading every day for about six hours a day on average. This was the Modern Library Moncrieff/Kilmartin edition that runs about 4,300 pages. So figure about ten pages an hour for that. This keeps in mind that it's nearly impossible (at least for me) to process the syntax of Proust's sentences and paragraphs, even in translation, for more than a half-hour at a time without breaks, whereas this morning when I was reading Thomas Mann I didn't get up from my chair until the chapter was done.

Some parts of In Search of Lost Time go much faster than others, by the way. I tore through The Captive and The Fugitive (probably three or four days for each volume), but there's a long section in Sodom and Gomorrah recounting a party conversation that must run about 200 pages, and that probably took me as long to read as The Captive did in its entirety.
posted by Prospero at 12:40 PM on October 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Last year, I gave a class of advanced undergraduates and some graduate students thirty minutes to read a twenty-page short story by A. C. Doyle. (Like ijsbrand, I read well over 1000 wpm, so I had to guesstimate the appropriate time.)

Doyle, as you all know, isn't difficult to read.

Forty minutes later, when most of them still weren't finished, I realized that I had misjudged the situation. I can only imagine what would have happened if it had been Proust...
posted by thomas j wise at 12:46 PM on October 15, 2006

I average about 60 pages an hour, sometimes as much as 100 pages depending on the material. I'm right in the middle of where most of my highly literate friends land.

My husband is a careful, deep reader, who stops to look up any unfamiliar words. He generally gets through 30 pages an hour.

I have a couple of library-addicted friends who speed through books at a rate of close to 200 pages an hour. But I don't think they really retain all that much.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:03 PM on October 15, 2006

Thanks to Evelyn Wood, I read books a helluva lot faster than I read Web pages, and remember them much better as well. But as I get older, my vision deficits are starting to chip away at the length of time I can comfortably spend reading, and the situations in which I will do it (reading glasses, good light, angle prop for a book to avoid constant focus shifting, etc.) But if I'm at my reading desk, reading Phillip Roth or John Updike, I cruise along at from 1800 to 2300 wpm. Technical or science writing, 2/3 to 3/4 that rate, unless there is a lot of math notation, or footnotes to consider.

My Internet reading speed is often limited by PgDn toggle rate (and slow Web dynamics) to 1/3 of my average print rate, and I very rarely read anything over 10 "pages" on the Web. It's just too painful. As is Proust. Out of simple human decency, she had better be grading on the broadest of curves.

Proust by the hour.

*paulsc shakes head, in sorrow for future generations*

It even sounds like torture.
posted by paulsc at 2:51 PM on October 15, 2006

Reading for pleasure tends to go fast, averaging about 90-120 pages an hour, depending on font size and writing style. Things like V.C. Andrews can go up to 150 or so pages an hour (though I barely ever read her), while stuff like Orson Scott Card usually hovers around the 100 page mark.

Reading for information is much slower, somewhere around 30 pages of A4 paper or 50-60 normal pages an hour, since I have a tendency to reread a paragraph two or three times and try to paraphrase it in my mind in a way I can understand. Reading things like Tolstoy, Dickens - I'm not a big fan of either - is around 60-80 pages an hour.

I can't stand skimming though. It's actually a conscious effort to skim, so research for my Extended Essay was hell as I literally went through about 10 or 12 books in two mornings, and just moved my eyes down the page while looking for keywords. But even then I get distracted and try to read the context, so even limiting myself to a section of, say, 40-50 pages, it'll take me 20-30 minutes to go through.

*will read anything that's printed*
posted by Phire at 2:51 PM on October 15, 2006

I suspect you're going to get a pretty biased sample here for two reasons:

a) Most people that hang out in these parts tend to be more bookish/scholarly than average. However, it sounds like you're talking about a college-level English course, so I would expect some bookish types there as well.

b) People often come on here to show off what they know (as well as being genuinely helpful....I know, I know) and those that only read 20 pages an hour may be less inclined to comment here than those that can clear 100.

But to add to your survey, I'm fairly well-read and get through about 30 an hour, but sometimes less. I also get distracted often with thoughts that are connected somehow to what I'm reading, even if it is just an entertaining novel. But I think some consideration should be made for that, as it's not uncommon.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 3:33 PM on October 15, 2006

I would never assume more than 30 pages an hour for a group of students. Further, I'm suspicious of anyone who claims to be able to read (rather than skim) 100 pages an hour for a prolonged period, with adequate comprehension, let alone the comprehension you'd want to see in a college course. I'm suspicious because I'm regularly in situations where people need to read a couple of pages of text and then report the contents to me—which is a decent test of reading comprehension, I think—and in my experience everybody does it in about the same amount of time, give or take a few seconds.
posted by Hildago at 3:50 PM on October 15, 2006

I agree with Hildago, I've never met someone who can actually comprehend unfamiliar material faster than about 40-60 pages/h (in trade-paperback pages of about 400 words/page). I knew one person who could fake it really well, but I could demonstrate repeatedly that he was skipping sentences by engaging in deep discussion of a single paragraph. He was remarkably good at synthesizing the overall themes of the material.
posted by clord at 7:15 PM on October 15, 2006

Y'all are such lightweights. Harold Bloom used to be able to read 1000 pages an hour; now, in his dotage, he reads a paltry 500 pages an hour.

(David Markson ridicules Bloom for this claim in one of his novels, by the way.)
posted by jayder at 9:00 PM on October 15, 2006

Proust? Do we count the time spent dozing off out of sheer boredom?
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:50 AM on October 16, 2006

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