Read Between the Lines

We're all awash in books, blogs, and reports to keep up in our jobs. Can speed-reading software help us be more productive?

"He moves his lips when he reads." Ouch! What an insult. Yet many of us, myself included, internally vocalize each word we read as we view it. If I could read faster, I'd get more done, have time for a life, or even be able to read something besides business books. Two programs claim to improve reading speed and comprehension. Which is better?

EyeQ

$249.95 list (30-day trial for $14.95), www.eyeq.tv

Celebrity endorsement: Pam Dawber, one-time star of Mork and Mindy, does the infomercials and radio ads.

The approach: Your eye muscles are flabby. EyeQ is your retinas' personal trainer. Exercises consist of tasks such as following images of Rubik's Cubes, chocolate chip cookies, and ultimately, blocks of words across the screen. The program is slick, and nobody can track a cookie like I can, but when text starts flying by at 10,000 words per minute, I want to lie down and watch TV Land.

The results: EyeQ promises results in seven minutes and claims that you can improve reading speed 2 to 10 times. After my first session, I went from reading 240 words per minute to 300. Woo hoo! When I started the second exercise a week later, though, recidivism had taken hold and I was back at 240. I yo-yoed back to 300 after my next session. Maybe I should do all my reading after an exercise — or drinking a Red Bull.

The Reader's Edge

$149.95, www.readfaster.com

Celebrity endorsement: The Reader's Edge is based on the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics seminars, which were big in the 1960s after President Kennedy urged his staff to take the course.

The approach: Your problem is years of reading one word at a time. The program's exercises teach you to view groups of words, thus increasing your "fluency." The program is spare, but the exercises do test your ability to view groups of words horizontally and vertically rather than subjecting you to a grade-school spin on A Clockwork Orange to strengthen your eyes. Plus, you set the pace and your target reading speed.

The results: I excelled at the exercises: The cartoon genie that serves as your guide — both programs are really designed for third graders — generously congratulated me as I did tasks at more than 500 words a minute. But my reading speed never increased when I picked up a magazine.

The verdict: Both programs made me self-conscious when reading, either ruining my enjoyment or destroying comprehension. But if you're really committed to trying this, go with the Reader's Edge. Its methods feel more legitimate, and perhaps if I keep at it, I can also learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.

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