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Thursday, March 12, 2009

for the love of tachistoscopes

For several weeks while I was in 10th grade, my goal was to become a speed reader. Okay, so this was unlikely—I had never been a very fast reader—but Mrs. K, my English teacher, had convinced me it was possible. Mrs. K was a kind woman, if a bit stern. Now I would call her Type A, but back then I didn’t know anything about that. What I did know is that I didn’t want to disappoint my teacher, and I didn’t want to be smoked in the reading race by my best friend, Claire. So each morning at 10 am for three weeks, I walked into Mrs. K’s classroom and tried to suppress my dread as I seated myself in front of the tachistoscope on my desk. This machine was an ancient-looking thing that scrolled passages of text across the screen. It went faster and faster each day.

The tachistoscope was metal. It was heavy. And it was black. How ominous it was to walk into that classroom and find one hulking on each desk. I don’t remember how fast I ended up reading, but I know it wasn’t fast enough, and I’m sure that Mrs. K was disappointed. (And of course Claire was able to read much faster than I.)

Today, as I searched around for a little history on the tachistoscope, I learned that the machines were widely used to try to increase reading speeds in the 1940s and 1950s, and that the smaller device (after which I’m sure Mrs. K’s machines were modeled), was invented in the late 1950s. (It’s hard to believe that we were still using it in 1988.)

I know this is an odd thing for me to post about here, but I’ll tell you what made me think of it: Last week, I sat staring at the shelf of books I need (and promised) to read, and I thought, desperately, oh, how I wish I were a speed reader! Then, I saw an image of Mrs. K standing over my shoulder, shaking her head in disappointment.

It’s too late for me.


Tom van Oosterom said...

I remember the tachistoscope in Mrs. K's if it was yesterday! They kinda scared me.

kristenspina said...

Oh lordy, I'm with you on this one. I had to put my TBR pile out of sight as its taunts were more than I could bear. Never again will I allow so many unread books into the house. Speed reading would most definitely help! ;-)

Ines said...

Interesting. My dad tells me that I need to learn to speed read. I hadn't really thought about what this meant since I read to slow down. Very interesting.
My 3 to-read piles of books is becoming 4. I have decided that it is not me, I am not slow, but too many good books being published too fast.

kate hopper said...

I know, I love to read to relax, but this rarely happens anymore. Alas.

Tom, they WERE scary, weren't they?