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Family Matters: Reading with speed runs risk of slipping up

I’m a speed reader. Have been since I was a teen. My mother worked for the department of continuing education at a university, and it was offering a course in speed reading and needed one more person to fill out the class. I became that one person.

The class met for only an hour or two for a few weeks, but when the goal of a class is speed, you don’t need to meet for long. The instructor said to make your eyes go across the lines of words as fast as you could and not be concerned about what the words meant.

I read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in 10 minutes. Cover to cover. The instructor asked what the book was about. I said I didn’t know, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was about animals on a farm.

He looked displeased.

I’ve been speed reading ever since. I can’t stop, and I can’t slow down. Today, for example, I plan to read Winston Churchill’s four-volume “History of the English Speaking Peoples.” Over lunch. I hope it’s more memorable than “Animal Farm.”

As a result of all this speed-reading, I often experience a delay between what I think I read and what something actually says.

The other day, I passed by a mall with a large sign that said “Auto Theft Sale.” I thought, “How efficient of auto thieves to bypass the chop shops and simply sell all the stolen cars in a big tent at the mall.” A half-mile later, it dawned on me that the sign had said “Auto Tent Sale.”

Last week, I read a recipe that called for “Monster cheese.” I had never heard of Monster cheese. I kept reading and, in the back of my mind, I was thinking that Monster cheese must be a really, really large block of cheese. Probably with green flecks. A second reading revealed that it was Muenster cheese. If Muenster cheese has green flecks, it probably is Monster cheese.

That faux pas falls in line with a local restaurant we frequently pass with the big red sign that says “Human Cuisine.” No wonder there are never many cars in the lot. Actually, it says “Hunan Cuisine.”

Every time I drive through a construction zone, I gasp. The sign says, “Hit a Worker $10,000.” It reads as if they’re offering a reward. Of course, it’s not an enticement; it’s just that my eyes rarely take in the last line that says “Fine.” It’s a $10,000 fine. Someone really needs to rephrase that one.

A department store chain keeps running a promo that says “FIND YOUR YES.” Inevitably, it registers with me as “FIND YOUR EYES.” I always note that my eyes are still in my head, but the lettering is so commanding that I feel it necessary to double-check.

Speed reading has bitten me more than once. Especially as a writer. Just aks any of my editosr.

Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Email her at lori@loriborgman.com.