Ever since the wheel tumbled into existence, we’ve looked to technology to help us do more with less. When we rolled out the printing press, publishing was revolutionized, and books began reaching readers in unprecedented numbers. Flash forward to today, and we’ve got a crop of new speed-reading platforms promising that their new way of presenting text minimizes the time and effort it takes to get through a book. But the new ways are often not the best ways (R.I.P. Google Wave; best of luck, Neil Young), and many people prefer to read at their own pace.
Companies like Spritz eliminate the slight inefficiencies of eye movement — beaming words directly at your eyeballs á la Clockwork Orange — allowing you to go from the plodding national average reading speed of about 300 wpm to a bionic 600 wpm in the (tortuously slow) blink of eye. So wouldn’t spritzing be a great solution to the stacks of books stacked on your desk? Isn’t speed-reading perfect for people who don’t have the time? Maybe if you’re reading simply for information, but not if you’re reading the joy and beauty of literature.
The shortcuts that speed-reading offers uproot the rhythm of sentences, and trample the pacing of a paragraph. How can you feel suspense, or hear the poetry of language, when every word strikes you with metronomic efficiency?
The ease of speed-reading might be appealing to those who find the act of reading intimidating; for instance, 23 percent of Americans didn’t read a book in the last year. But there are other ways to make it easier to spend time with literature that don’t necessitate the literacy equivalent of doping. There’s Rooster, a brand new startup that curates two books (one classic, one contemporary) each month and delivers them in easy-to-read 15-minute installments for a low monthly subscription fee. For those who want access to more books, Oyster will give you access to 200,000 books for under ten dollars a month. There’s also Recommended Reading, the magazine I co-founded with Halimah Marcus, which publishes one story a week for free to Tumblr, as well as to Kindle and our app.
For anyone looking for a quick read that’s still worth spending some time with, here are 15 eclectic and excellent stories you can read in fewer than 15 minutes at a 300 wpm average reading speed.
“Antiheroes” by George Saunders Reading time: five minutes
What if you had superpowers? What if they didn’t work most of the time, or really at all? What do you really need to know about this story other than that it’s written by George Saunders? The man is practically a superhero of the short form.
“The Knowers” by Helen Phillips Reading time: 12 minutes
As a list like this suggests, we’re all concerned about how much time we have left. Phillips takes this fear to its extreme by giving her characters the opportunity to learn the exact time of their death.
“Before” by Lucy Corin Reading time: 14 minutes
In her recent collection One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, Lucy Corin shows us the many ways the world may end. Here, in this hallucinatory and intelligent story, she sets about destroying that romantic image of the starving artist.
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger Reading time: 14 minutes
I don’t care how many times you’ve read this. It’s delightful and dark and everything a story needs to be. If you somehow haven’t read it, I don’t know why you’re wasting time reading this sentence. Get on it.
“Marabou” by Joy Williams Reading time: six minutes
This remarkable story from The Paris Review looks at the strange spectacle of death and mourning, and the astonishing way we all manage to keep moving on.
“Tributaries” by Ramona Ausubel Reading time: 11 minutes
Ramona Ausubel imagines a world where people grow new appendages when they fall in love. It’s strange, it’s moving, and it’s worth every minute of your time.
“Pelion” by Mario Alberto Zambrano Reading time: 14 minutes
A quiet but vividly detailed story of relationships, infidelity, and how life can conspire to keep us from the ones we love.
“Seibert” by Adam Haslett Reading time: 10 minutes
A story that captures New York, Brooklyn, and the wonderful world of online dating. Worth reading for its use of the word “Tribecian” alone.
“An Unwritten Novel” by Virginia Woolf Reading time: 15 minutes
Technically you could read all the words in this experimental wonder in 15 minutes. But you’re better off spending some extra time with this one; there’s an entire life lived in here.
“Notes on a War-Torn Childhood” by Sara Nović Reading time: eight minutes
A powerful story of a Croatian girl trapped caught in a war zone, written by an up-and-coming writer you’ll be hearing from a lot in the future.
“The Tablecloth of Turin” by Ron Carlson Reading time: five minutes
A hysterical monologue in which a duped man defends an absurd religious relic from all would-be non-believers. You can hear a brilliant performance of the story at Selected Shorts.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson Reading time: 12 minutes
If you haven’t read this classic and disturbing story yet, it means you slept through English class while the rest of us bookish types did our work and had nightmares as a result. If you’ve read it before, it’s high time to revisit.
“The Skin Thing” by Adrian Van Young Reading time: six minutes
As Lincoln Michel describes it, this work of swift science fiction is like a Shirley Jackson story menaced by “a horrifying Lovecraftian creature.” It’ll be collected in Gigantic Worlds, from the great minds at Gigantic (the kings of the quick, meaningful read).
“Toast” by Matt Sumell Reading time: 11 minutes
Matt Sumell isn’t afraid to give voice to all the things you’re not supposed to even think about. And you better get ready to listen, because the man’s got a lot to say.
“Home Run” by Steven Millhauser Reading time: four minutes
Written in a single, breathless sentence, “Home Run” follows the meteoric rise of a baseball and plays with the favorite phrases of America’s favorite pastime.