today’s curiousity is about reading speed

At the moment, I’m contemplating my reading pile. It would be nice if I could spend several days actually just reading it straight through and catching it up. But I so rarely (almost never) read during regular business hours. Like most agents, I read on evenings and weekends and fit it in wherever I can. What I do manage to do just about the end of each month is assess where things stand, dubiously eye what our webpage touts as our response time, and attempt to remake the pile according to some sort of triage.

Luckily, I love to read. Because this pile never gets completely caught up. There are always client manuscripts (either under contract, under option, or awaiting assessment for new marketing) and non-client requested submissions (always, always, always looking for new talent). I don’t include queries and unsolicited submissions in this sort of thing. Somewhere in there I’d also like to fit in reading for pleasure. You know, books with covers by authors I’m a fan of. That’s one of the things that got me into this business in the first place. Plus, I keep reminding myself that I need to keep up with what’s out there because it helps my overall understanding of the various genres I represent. This is not reflected in the current book on my nightstand, which I’ve now owned for almost 2 years and is the 3rd in a trilogy that I’ve always wanted to finish. A book which I am also about to set aside for a few days because there are manuscripts I really must get through.

It’s a dream job. Never running out of things to read. I’ve always read constantly, regardless. But it’s also a juggling act…. submissions, client materials, other books. I sometimes wonder how other editors and agents arrange things so they can do it all in a time that would be considered reasonable for sending responses. Clients need feedback. Non-clients don’t want to wait too long for responses, either. Which brings me back to arranging things to satisfy those requirements and looking once more at what our webpage lists for response times.

And I wonder how fast everyone else reads… How quickly would they get through what is currently in my office? So, if you are so inclined, please let me know. How many pages do you read an hour and/or how many pages do you skim an hour? (I find that super-critical reading, such as what is required for editorial feedback goes more slowly than, say, just trying for content retention.) I’d also be curious to know how many books people read on average per week (for definition of book I’m going with either a full manuscript or printed book of regular adult novel length, at least 80K and up per volume). I’d sort of like to get an idea of where I fall in terms of both speed and amount consumed.

ETA: Based on some of these responses I want to add another question. How often can you get pretty much a full day to read? (Obviously the # of books per week would be skewed if one didn’t have to go to a day job or whatnot.)

48 responses to “today’s curiousity is about reading speed

  1. Standard size type on a mass-market paperback? I get sixty to eighty pages an hour, depending on word and sentence complexity. This probably means I’m a subvocalizer, but I don’t really care.
    Now that I’ve made myself stop turning on the TV and read during my lunch hours, I get through about a book a week (predictably, at 60 pp/hr * 1 hour * 5 days).

  2. I don’t read published books with covers and by authors I like nearly as often as I should because I have the single-mindedness of a ferret. I can read, or I can write, or I can critique, but doing more than one of those things at a time is a real challenge for me, mostly because I become obsessed with whichever I’m working on. Luckily, I can do all three pretty quickly.
    I can get through a mid-sized book with cover and such in a day, two at the most. (The giantness of the fifth Harry Potter book took me three and a half.) But that’s if I’m reading all day and growling at people when they try to interrupt.
    It takes me about twice as long to critique something, usually, unless the sentence-level is in great need of help. (And then there’s usually other problems, and maybe sentence level isn’t the one I should be concentrating on helping them work out.)
    Hm. Does that help?
    As for your response times, I’d say you’re not doing too bad. 😉

  3. Well, if I’m reading something I find enjoyable and have no need to take notes on it, I read something like 800 pages a day. That’s for about 8-10 hours of reading. I think I read Steven Erikson’s latest tome in a day. It was approximately 10000 pages. If I like it, but am not immersed, it becomes closer to 500-600 pages. After that, well I read history books on Russia for an attempted living, and when pressed I can pound through 400 pages of those a day, taking sparse notes. These are analysis-heavy books, not mainstream “let’s-tell-a-good-yarn-that-happens-to-have-a-lot-of-historical-fact-in-it” history.

    • It was approximately 10000 pages.
      Better make that 1000 pages.
      I hate to say it, but I read the last two Harry Potter books in the course of an afternoon.

      • Average books a week
        Right. Forgot this one. My average is 5. That’s with work, work-reading, fun-reading, and husband-homework-reading. The higher the fun-reading that week or the lower the husband-homework-reading, then the average bumps up to 8. But yeah, average is 5.

  4. It really depends…
    Depends on if I’m reading *and* doing something, or just reading.
    For just reading, which means you could light a fire next to me, and so long as the pages didn’t start burning, I’d never notice, of standard-complexity fiction, assume 2-3 pages per minute. I could easily start a Harlequin-length novel at dinner, and have a second one completed before going to bed. (This explains why I stopped reading category romance, except for the Bombshells!)
    If I’m reading while doing something else (such as watching television, eating, blow-drying my hair, etc.), or it’s a more complex piece of fiction, requiring me to go back over paragraphs and re-read them to be sure I got the sense of them, figure 1 page per minute.
    Really heavy-duty reading, such as all the philosophy texts I slogged through while in graduate school, are 2 minutes/page if they’ve been written in the 20th century, 4 mintes/page if you also have to translate into modern English while attempting to figure out what they’re talking about.

    • Re: It really depends…
      Oh, and you asked how many books we read in the average week? Ummm…. five, on average, I think. Some weeks it’s two, some weeks it’s ten. Some glorious weekends pass in an orgy of bookreading, when I finish 3-5 books a day. *sigh* *bliss*

  5. I read comfortably at about 80 pages an hour, if it’s an average paperback without microtype. I can force myself to read faster, but it’s an effort.

  6. Reading for pleasure — probably about 75 pages an hour. I’ve read about 115 books this year, so my average thus far is about four a week. This will likely increase as the weather deteriorates. If I’m reading something critically, to help learn craft, it is obviously a lot slower.

  7. How many pages do you read an hour and/or how many pages do you skim an hour?
    I can go through 1000 pages of fiction a day, easy. Say three or four average mass market paperbacks, but that would be when I have absolutely nothing else to do but eat and sleep. I’m slower on non-fiction, particularly if I want to retain any of it, but still, 200-500 pages a day, depending on the amount of academic vocabulary involved.
    I average five to ten books a week, sometimes more, when I have them. I wouldn’t know about pages per hour, though.

  8. I read about 100 pages an hour when reading purely for pleasure, and I can (and have) read ten books a week. Lately I’ve spent less time reading, so maybe two books a week as an average. I’ve read 45 books so far this year (that I’ve kept track of. There were doubtless a few others along the way).

  9. How often can you get pretty much a full day to read?
    I had a …relaxing… temp job week before last — just had to sit there, answer the phone when it rang (which it did infrequently), and route the call to the correct department. During that week I read four books — two light mysteries, a readable but challenging non-fiction book, and a slim, but intricately written fantasy. That week represented the most “reading time” I’ve had in …years, feels like.
    I have no idea how many pages I read in an hour, but I do know that much depends on the material. A fluffy mystery held me maybe six hours, with intermittent phone calls, sorting mail, and whatnot. The dense non-fiction book was a two-day read under the same conditions.

  10. Reading speed
    Mine varies. I binge read and can tear through a novel in two days. On binges I am into a pleasure read and a learning read at the same time. I take books with me everywhere, my journal too. Ebooks take me forever to get through. I don’t have a reader and have to read them on the computer, which is my writing time.

  11. On the slow end of the spectrum…
    In high school (20+ years ago) I read approx. 20 pages per hour. Now, I read between 30-40 pages per hour depending on the complexity of the fiction.
    I say fiction because it’s been quite a while since I’ve looked at anything non-fiction. I’m bad that way.

    • Re: On the slow end of the spectrum…
      I’m with you. I probably read about 50-60 pages an hour if I’m really pushing it. I’m kind of obsessive about getting every detail, though, and if I find myself skimming because I’m eager to know what happens, I’ll go back and re-read the passage. It took me 8 solid hours to read the last Harry Potter book.
      I write slowly, too.
      This has nothing to do with intelligence, btw. I’m a member of Mensa, and I have excelent retention and comprehension.

  12. I can read about 60-70 pages an hour when I’m not in a distracting environment. Unfortunately, that never happens any more. I read a little less, a little more, depending on how interesting the book is.
    I haven’t been able to spend a whole day reading in years.

  13. I skim at about two-three pages a minute (depending on the text) and critical read a lot more slowly. How slowly? Well, it depends on what it is. History at about a page a minute and technical stuff at a bit less than that.
    I can get a full day to read things when I schedule it ahead of time; otherwise, I can put in two-three hours a day, if I’m being dilligent about it.
    I’m averaging two books a week right now, mostly just before bed reading. When I read for someone, I try to put in no more than an hour at a shot so I can actually comment, not just read.

  14. About 40 – 50 pages an hour depending. Also, I almost never get a full day to read and would love to have that as my dream job.

  15. When reading for pleasure, I get through about 50 pages an hour, and that’s reading semi-critically; part of my brain is constantly deconstructing paragraphs to see how they work, or playing with word choice and sentence order in bits of dialogue.
    When I was editing fiction I managed about 15 pages an hour. Editing game material could sometimes slow me down to a mere 5 pages an hour, but that was more to do with testing systems and making sure the mechanics were sound.
    It’s interesting that you mention skimming instead of closely reading. I’ve found that after a couple years of editing I tend to skim over the things I read much more than I used to. My brain will pluck out the important bits and discard the rest, which is really a shame when dealing with a well-written novel.
    How often do I get a full day to read? Never. I have to consciously make time to sit down and read for more than thirty minutes a day. I’ve got books on the shelf to be read that are almost a year old now, which is about the saddest thing I can think of.

  16. I read fast. I don’t read *much* these days, but I read fast. I read Allen Steele’s COYOTE trilogy last Sunday between breakfast and dinner with time to take a nap mid-afternoon, and that’s about average for me. My reading binges are usually 3-5 books a day, when I get the chance. (I cannot *wait* for December. I am going to turn into an unmoveable lump on my couch, surrounded by piles and piles of TBRs. The idea brings tears to my eyes.)
    I read approximately 5000 times slower when I’m editing.

  17. I can get through a 400pp book in about 3 hours. I read fast, but I don’t always absorb content.

  18. I’m a terribly slow reader, but I do process just about every line. When I start to glaze over, or skim, I know that I either need a break or to toss the book out entirely. But I only do that after I’ve gotten to page 40. I read to page 40 in every book (unless they’re less than 40 pages long, and then I have no excuse). I usually max out at about 30-40 pages a day. I would not do well in your job.
    I never get a full day to read–except when the last Harry Potter book came out, of course. I was a fan by then, so I did most nothing but read for those three days. Like I said, I’m a terribly slow reader. I’ve had quite a bit more time to read in the past few days, though — I’ve had vertigo and it’s about all I can do without getting disoriented. I’m halfway through a 300+ page book I started yesterday, even.
    Eliza

  19. Straight-ahead fiction reading for pleasure? I can go through a 352 page book in an afternoon, given the opportunity. Non-fiction or reading for research I slow down considerably, and reading for editorial depends on the work being edited. About 12 manuscript pages an hour, on average.
    The only time I get a chance to pleasure-read for more than an hour at a time these days is when I’m taking a sick/mental health day, or when I’m traveling.
    I used to binge on books — five a weekend was about average. Now… not so much. Part of that, though, is that I’m much more discriminating in what I read: if I don’t like it, I don’t finish it. And I usually know by the second chapter.

  20. Since I’ve started my book reviewing career, my reading speed has picked up marvelously. A cheque in the mail is a wonderful incentive.

  21. How many pages do you read an hour and/or how many pages do you skim an hour?
    ETA: Based on some of these responses I want to add another question. How often can you get pretty much a full day to read? (Obviously the # of books per week would be skewed if one didn’t have to go to a day job or whatnot.)

    Let’s see, I average around 100 pages of an average F/SF novel (someone like Wolfe takes longer, something like HP goes much faster) in the time I have to read each day which is about 80 min, so that’s about 75 pages in an hour. I average around 500 pages a week.
    I very rarely get a full day to read. The closest I’ve had recently were my stints on jury duty.

  22. Hmm, I’ve never really timed how fast I read. But based on how much I can read on a cross-country flight when I’m by myself, I think I’m between 60 and 100 pages/hour, depending on complexity.
    Books per week varies a lot based on how busy I am and how excited I am about what I’m reading, but I average two.
    I work full-time, have a husband and a toddler daughter, and am an aspiring writer, so full days to read are almost non-existent. I had one this summer when I was recuperating from a nasty bacterial infection and was well enough to read but sick enough to lie on the couch all day, and then I had the long Seattle-Atlanta round trip when I went to RWA National. Normal reading is in snatches, an hour or two here and there.

  23. Once, I was likely to read three sf novels in my spare time — back when 60,000 words was the usual length. Plus a newspaper or two. Plus likely as not a bit more reading.
    I’m fairly sure this wasn’t the best possible use of my mind.

  24. Yeah, there’s no such thing as a full day to read anymore. I’m a stay-at-home mom with two small children – and an aspiring writer, to boot. But when I was in college and younger, I’d read a standard Mary Higgins Clark in an hour or so. I read faster when I’m listening to music, so I could read a shakespearean play while listening to Grieg in a couple of hours (retaining enough to pass an exam later). I read the last HP in about four or five hours, with interruptions (sigh). Then I read it again in three hours (without said interruptions). How many books a week? Greatly varies…good weeks, probably a book a day. More typical weeks, two books.

  25. I just finished my August reading marathon: 5,100 pages completed, a few hours ago. I read Susan Wigg’s Summer at Willow Lake (500+ pages) one lazy Saturday. On one day, I averaged 84 pages an hour. Before I became a nurse, I was a history and poly sci major, so I learned to read a ton of things very fast. The only book to slow me down this month was John Katzenbach’s The Madman’s Tale. That was a very dense read. I had to re-read things a few times because it was just so wonderful. I specifically set asside August as a reading month, becuase I spent May and June writing a book, and July editing. I also read several chapters of my critique group stuff, and you are correct, that goes slower: you’re reading not only with the expectation of enjoyment, but you’re analyzing at the same time for different things, so you have more layers running while you go. I stole the weekend days to read (I have a corporate job that involves supervising 23 people, and running projects), and I read at least two hours or more each night when I was able to. On average I could get 3-4 weeknights to read. I also crammed in several books during 1/2 hour lunch breaks, so I could get them done. It was a wonderful, wonderful month doing this, but I can’t always do it so carefree. I’m on to my second book’s detailed outline, and will use September and October to complete it, so the reading will be cut down: if I finish 1K pages a month, I’ll be lucky.
    Christine
    http://museunplugged.blogspot.com/

  26. Standard mass-market paperbacks? I probably go through 3-6 a week. The times in my life when I’ve been able to spend 6 hours a day reading, I went through anywhere from 2-5 a day, depending on length, content, and whether I’d read it before. I’d guess that I average about 120-200 pages per hour, depending on the above.

  27. I can devour a light fantasy reading book of around 300 pages in about an hour to an hour and a half. Dense stories take me 2 hours. The thickest Harry Potter books take me about 3 hours. Robert Jordan-style books take me 3-4 hours. And no, that’s not skim speed, either. I don’t have a skim speed. I’m either reading it, or I’m not. It helps that I read paragraph by paragraph. That’s why I hate weird formatting. I just do chunk after chunk, and onwards I go.
    Non-fiction of about the same length, wouldn’t know because I skip around way too much looking for information that I need.
    I’m a stay-at-home wife (not mother), so I usually have something lying around in arm’s reach to read. I probably read the equivalent of two books per day. Not necessarily two full books per day. I have this habit of picking up a book in the middle and reading it from there because I have almost all the books in the apartment memorized.
    But I’ve had lots of practice at reading, too. I’ve been reading since I was two…and I don’t mean reciting the books my mom taught me. One day, I asked her a question about a newspaper article on the front page of the local paper, and it’s been non-stop ever since.

  28. I read three or four, sometimes five books a week, plus stuff for my critique groups, but it’s hard for me to give pages per hour because for me that depends on who I’m reading. I read Ian McEwan or Marquez or Kingsolver or Geraldine Brooks at a slower pace than more plot-based reads, like Rex Stout or Jen Crusie or Grisham.
    Virginia Miss

  29. Purely reading: between 100-300 pages an hour of fiction. 300 pp./hour is if it’s very light fluffy something-or-other or I’m really sucked into the book or I have to do a high-speed skim, and 100 pp./hour is for more convoluted prose. Grad school material: 80-100 pages an hour; the low rate is for the most densely jargon-infested prose. My copy editing/proofreading speed varies according to the ms. and the deadline.
    I get one full weekend day each week–not necessarily continuous time, but adding the hours together–to read, which I split between grad school, freelance, and the few pleasure books I can allow myself now that grad school is sucking up all my spare reading time. In that day I read the equivalent of 2-3 books split between assigned reading for school, freelance, and the occasional pleasure reading. I cram the equivalent of another book into the workweek (evenings, early mornings, lunchtime) given the amount of reading I have to do to keep abreast of work issues.

  30. Ah, a question dear to my heart. 😉
    In my pre-agenting days, I had a 45 minute commute into NYC each way every day (good ol’ Metro North), and used that for my personal reading. Including a few hours on the weekend, I’d generally get through three books a week if they were bestseller-type, genre, etc. If I delved into something a little more thought provoking, like a classic or biography, it would slow my reading time considerable. I suppose I read about 80-100 pages per hour in a typical mass market book, if it’s just reading for story. I wish I could improve on that.
    Manuscripts, of course, are a different kettle of fish. I can get through three of average length in a weekend if I use both Saturday and Sunday for work reading and only get up to switch my laundry into the dryer or refill my coffee. That’s with making notes (and assuming all three are good enough for me to read in their entirety). Of course, this kind of time investment isn’t always available. Reading for a client takes longer, because I generally read through once fast for story and then go back and reread for plot holes and other issues.
    But I completely agree with you about needing time to read books with covers. Last year I hit December 31st and realized I’d read all of 7 books the entire year and decided I couldn’t let that happen again. So I try to allocate at least a half an hour before bedtime for personal reading. Doesn’t always happen, but I’m averaging about two books per month now, so I feel better. And less deprived.

  31. If I’m reading for pleasure,I’ll down a novel in a few hours. If I’m reading critically(I coach high school writing) I’ll do 60 crits in about 12 hours (the papers run an average of 5 pages)

  32. Sadly, with my work and such, I am happy to finish a 500 page or so book in 2-3 weeks. My only true time to read is lunchtime at work, and that for about 30 minutes of that. So I can’t even bear to guess. And yet I keep buying books, more and more and more. Books on my ipod are my only saving grace and that of course doesn’t count. I can listen all I want while I work.
    C who will be interested in what others do

  33. Back in HS I was clocked at 660 wpm with 100% recall. Don’t know what that translates to in pages. Gerriwritinglog mentioned paragraph chunking–that’s what I do, but until now I hadn’t heard of anyone else doing that. I thought I was just peculiar 🙂
    I’m a SAHM, so chunks of reading time are hard to find, especially when I’m trying to write (which is what I should be doing now). I know I can devour a Clancy novel in one day. I’m a bear afterwards, but I can do it.
    nessili

    • That’s apparently how they teach people to speed read, by processing blocks of text instead of single words. That’s how I read, too.

  34. I remember the last time I had a full day to do nothing but read: it was in January of 2002.
    Hey, can I ask you a question? What’s your reading posture? I tend to picture agents reading in a Aeron or similar reclining/rolly chair, arms leaning on a desk, ms at about chest level. Is that anywhere close to the truth? I have pretty awful posture, and I’ve never found a single reading position that doesn’t eventually induce a back- or neck-ache. Looking at my monitor (a perfectly vertical plane twelve inches away, which I don’t have to hold) is actually easier to do for long periods.

  35. Well, I had to delete and repot because I caught typos here–oh boy!
    Uninterrupted, I can do a regular-sized paperback novel in 2 hours, some of the smaller “cheezy popcorn” mysteries in an hour and a half–if I finish them at all. I don’t have the patience I used to have for finishing bad writing.Something larger and more complex may double the time demanded, especially if it was a duty-read or a recommendation that I’m not all that fond of.
    However, I don’t get much time to read, a half hour at night on hard copy reading, and if I’m stressed out, that will be nonfiction such as Scientific American.
    I’m really slow reader when I edit, but I don’t regard myself as anywhere near the level of sharp-eyed careful that publishable work needs. To be fair, the folks I’ve tried to help out are not meeting anything like pro levels of usage and grammar, let alone larger scale questions of plot and character and POV and so on, so they have a lot of things that need fixing, and it goes very slow. I end up having to rip the guts out of what I’m working on while trying to stay out of the way of their personal style, which means I take ages to consider the other person’s delicate sensibilities. One example took me an entire evening to properly work over a one-page synopsis, and I wasn’t listing out everything it really needed. I also had that sinking feeling all my work didn’t make enough of a dent to improve their work enough to be worth bothering. So I’ve been resisting such labors as a huge time-waster for me.

  36. I average a book a day, and that’s without reading full time. When I’ve got a lot of other things to do – which mostly means a lot of writing, which occupies the same brain slot as reading I might be down to two books a week, but it’s rarely less.
    Full days to read – very rarely, if I have a full day, I’ll *write.*
    My editing speed (or rather critting of finished novels for writer friends) has increased immensely since I discovered Word’s comment feature – all it needs now to comment on something and mark it up is an extra mouseclick and a spot of typing.
    My mental capacity, on the other hand, is set at about two complex stories a day maximum, so reading quicker won’t mean more books. Even when I read short stories, I’ll read one, have a break, read another – but rarely more than two or three in a day.

  37. I can usually read a 350 page book in an evening (I sit up late in bed, hiding the light from my hubby and turning the pages as quietly as I can!)
    I read about three books a week, but I must start to read at least five or six. I have gotten very picky about what I read because I don’t have much time any more. Nowawadays if I put the book down unfinished it usually means I won’t get back to it because a good book, for me, is one I just can’t bear to put down. (If I start skimming too much I usually put it down and forget about it.)
    (The last one I read like that was Ruth Rendell’s ‘Ends in Tears’)

  38. I usually assume I can read 60 pages in an hour, but that’s a sliding scale — mysteries go faster than that (up to 3 pages a minute for someone like Robert Parker, a smooth writer with few words to a page) and non-fiction drops down to about half that (possibly less if I need to keep stopping to argue with the book, which happens often).
    I used to read faster than that, but I made a conscious effort to slow down about ten years ago, because I found I was just skimming rather than actually reading. Now my to-be-read stacks are higher, but it seems like I’m remembering more of the books I read. (I also have two small children, who have eaten into time that I used to spend reading.)
    I’m usually good for four “real” books of average length a week, though I also read a lot of comics and art books.

  39. I timed myself on a hardcover I had to hand, and I read almost two pages in the minute I gave myself. That’s about standard, I guess. I can finish an average regency romance in about an hour.
    However, If I’m trying to crit something for a fellow writer, I slow way down, and I get tired.
    I have no clue how many books I read a week, because I tend to read in batches. Either I’m reading a lot, or I’m reading not at all. Also, I’m a semi-invalid, and I can spend all day reading if I feel like it, and sometimes do. Five or six books a day is by no means unusual. And nothing at all for two weeks isn’t unusual either.

  40. both sides of the page in a mass market paperback in 45 seconds so around 100 pages an hour; a novel in 2-3 hours
    reading time varies on whehter i’m travelling or have a full 10 hour working day – anything from one book a week to ten
    my husband reads faster than I do and averages 5 books a week

  41. I can read about a book a day if I have all day to read. It would take me between two and three days to read the same book, if I’m just reading at lunch and/or at night. So, let’s give it an average of four books per week.
    Now that is definitely pleasure reading/content retention. If I have to do really in-depth reading (I used to work as a copy editor, so I know that kind of reading) it would be a lot slower, because I would be considering every word and not just speeding through, anxious to find out the solution to the next cliff hanger. It would cut my speed by half.

  42. 140 pages an hour light reading, skimming I can read three times that fast, 80 pages an hour for heavy reading. And for critiques, I also need thinking time, and although I can be doing something else, it adds to the response time.
    When I have free time, I often write rather than read. My book reading tends to go in clumps and I’ll read 3 books in a week and none the next. A full day to myself boggles my mind.

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