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Super Speed Reading
"Yes, I can actually read this fast."
Dr. Spencer Reid, Criminal Minds

Everybody knows smart people love reading. That's why surrounding a character with big, thick, difficult-looking books whenever possible is considered an acceptable way of indicating that that person is meant to be brainy.

Every now and then, though, you'll find yourself in a situation where you want to establish a character as even smarter than your run-of-the-mill smart guy. You may even want to convey that they're some kind of bona fide genius. So what do you do?

Easy. You show them reading really, really fast.

Super Speed Readers are characters who are seen turning the pages of books at improbable speeds, presumably retaining all of the information they're flipping through, as a way of demonstrating their intelligence. While it is possible for the audience to learn a character has this ability in some other way, in visual media, it's fairly common for a scene to be present where we actually get to see this feat performed, most likely because occasions where high IQ can actually be translated into to exciting visuals are few and far between.

Disappointingly, speed reading in Real Life is not actually a function of raw IQ, but a learned skill which involves tedious practice and sacrificing some degree of comprehension in favor of speed. Also, in order to make this sort of thing look impressive on film, it's generally necessary to depict characters reading at a rate that would noticeably exceed those of the fastest known real-life speed readers, if anyone in the audience were to get out a stopwatch and do the math. Neither of these things are of any concern when a speed reading character is meant to be supernaturally intelligent, though, which is often the case when this trope is in play.

One of the things the other 90% of Your Brain is used for. Often seen alongside, or even conflated with, Photographic Memory. Potentially a skill of the TV Genius, particularly when he has an IQ score that is too high to make sense. The Emergent Human will use this skill to get caught up on the sum total of human knowledge over a long weekend.

Don't expect anyone to ever get carpal tunnel syndrome from turning thousands of pages per minute — the less-glamourous Required Secondary Power of "Super Page Turning" is bundled in for free.


Examples

Anime

Comic Books
  • The Tangent Comics version of Superman first expresses his "otherness" this way.
  • The Flash is capable of doing this, as a manifestation of his super speed.
    • Bart Allen (Impulse/Kid Flash) was established as different from other speedsters when it was revealed he can speed read AND retain everything he read (other speedsters can speedread but forget about the facts they researched soon). Subverted in that Kid Flash is still a hyperkinetic attention-deficit teenager and not exactly a genius.
  • As does The Leader from Marvel Comics
  • Quicksilver of Marvel Comics can do this as well.
  • In a Spirou and Fantasio comic, the Count of Champignac temporarily gains this ability after injecting himself with a Super Serum that increases intelligence.

Film
  • In the film version of Flowers for Algernon, Charlie can do this after it's clear that something's very wrong with him.
  • George Malley, protagonist of the film Phenomenon as played by John Travolta. And that's not all he can do.
  • Johnny Five does this in the Short Circuit films.
    Johnny Five: *reads, then pauses* I think The Butler Did It... *reads for two more seconds* He did!
  • Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen has Sam gain this skill and go mad in the process.
  • In Twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character being a Genius Bruiser reads through the car manual pages in secondsnote .

Literature
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Valentine Michael Smith can read at incredible speeds. He is very intelligent, though he starts off naive and inexperienced.
  • In Flowers for Algernon, Charlie at a point mentions he can read a page per second.
  • Brutha of Small Gods, by virtue of his ability to never forget anything he saw, no matter how fleeting. This ability of his was shown when, in probably around an hour's time, he memorized half of the books and scrolls stored in the Library of Ephebe, the second largest library in Discworld, moments before the Omnians burned it down. Granted, he can't actually understand it, at least at first, because in addition to a photographic memory he is completely illiterate and appears to have some form of dyslexia.
  • Belgarath of The Belgariad mentions offhand that he can read and comprehend a whole sentence in a glance. His daughter, Polgara, can read a whole paragraph in the same time.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Planeswalker Teferi tops them all.
    Radha: How long will it take you? [to read a book the size of a hay bale]
    Teferi: [eyes glow blue] About that long.
    Radha: You just read the entire Book of Keld?
    Teferi: Read it, memorized it, ready to recite it.

Live-Action Television
  • Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds is seen doing this on camera despite being an ordinary, non-superpowered TV Genius.
    • In one episode, the BAU needs to look at hundreds of hours of security footage. When pointed out that time is short, one of the BAU members asks Reed what he did this morning. Reed replies that he re-read War and Peace (note: the novel is over 1200 pages long).
  • On Stargate SG-1, in an episode where several team members are granted super powers by an alien artifact, Daniel Jackson is depicted as reading through large volumes in mere seconds.
    • Inverted, slightly - in the same episode Carter is shown writing a book on wormhole physics so fast she has to keep pausing because the computer's input buffer can't keep up with her.
  • Kyle from Kyle XY, a super-intelligent but inexperienced genetic experiment, reads an entire encyclopedia in an afternoon in order to take a level in normal.
  • Luke Smith, also a naive superintelligent science experiment, reads a textbook in minutes in the pilot of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  • Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation is often seen doing this. Justified by his being an android - he only requires a single glance to memorize a page.
  • In the pilot episode of the original Star Trek, Gary Mitchell is struck by a space-phemonenon that turns him into a god-like superhuman; he first displays this by reading at an amazing speed.
  • Seever on Life can speed read; she also possesses a Photographic Memory.
  • In Doctor Who, the first episode with the Ninth Doctor has him display this skill as a throw-away gag, flipping through a book and then tossing it away, bemoaning its sad ending.
    • Done earlier in City of Death, with the Fourth Doctor. He liked it, though it was a bit boring in the middle.
  • Although he hasn't exhibited this ability for real (yet), Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory does it jokingly when he gets the new issue of The Flash.
    Hello, Fastest Man Alive. Wanna see me read your comic book? * frrrp* Wanna see me do it again?
  • Adam McArthur is shown doing it in The Visitor.
  • In Charmed, Phoebe speed-reads the dictionary after using a spell to make herself smarter.
    • Leo sometimes uses his whitelighter powers to speed-read things.
  • Monk demonstrated this ability in an early eighth season episode while reading a magazine with Natalie, with him rapidly flipping through it and then getting yelled at by Natalie for giving her no time to read the articles. Monk, of course, makes fun of her "slow" reading speed. Of course, speed-reading is justified in his case due to his Hyper Awareness.
    • Also invoked in the book Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants, where there is a scene where Monk speed-reads through several of Ian Ludlow's mystery books, and quickly complains that the books are just using the same formula, again due to the same Hyper Awareness.
    • He also gets a job as a fact-checker at a magazine, having quickly flipped through some of their older issues while waiting for his job interview, and then points out obscure errors by reciting the lines from memory.

Newspaper Comics
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin once flips through a book rapidly to hurry through a reading assignment. As Hobbes comments, "reading is easy if you don't sweat comprehension."

Tabletop RPG
  • Several game systems allow players to pick a speed reading trait during the process of character creation; naturally, speeds reached are a function of the intelligence stat.
    • GURPS makes it a skill so anyone can be really good at Speed-Reading, although a high IQ stat helps. Truly super speed reading is the domain of the Scholars in the Dungeon Fantasy books who can compress 200 hours of study into an hour, even to learn magic or skills that bend the laws of physics.

Webcomics
  • Grace, the human/alien/another alien/squirrel hybrid from El Goonish Shive is also seen reading textbooks at superhuman speed. She got enhanced short-term memory, probably from free-shapeshifting ancestors.
  • Peanut of Housepets! is capable of doing this, even though he's not suggested to be a genius. Even Fox, who is a bookworm himself, is impressed.
  • Brian of Rhapsodies whenever he has to "learn" something.
  • Abel of Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures uses a spell to flip through a book in seconds, then tells Jyrras to look up a specific page. But then the store manager tells him "you scry, you buy".

Web Original
  • It's a part of the stock mental package of the Exemplar mutant power set in the Whateley Universe, along with lightning computational skills and sometimes a danger sense or directional sense. The higher your Exemplar (mental) level, the faster you can read, the easier you can memorize anything you see, and the faster you can do basic algebra types of math. It doesn't make you smarter, but it does make you better able to get good grades. Also, plenty of Exemplars do not have the mental package that goes with their level of power.
  • In Part 4 of Lovelace One Two, Mr. Stone tests Andi's mysterious new ability by handing her a book of Shakespeare's sonnets and instructing her to skim the book as fast as she can. She does — and remembers the entire sonnet sequence perfectly afterwards.

Western Animation
  • Lisa and her soon-to-be boyfriend bond over speed-reading the one textbook they both wanted in The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Wedding". They appear to finish it in an afternoon.
    • In "They Saved Lisa's Brain", the whole Mensa group including Lisa finished reading the town charter (which is a scroll sized page) in seconds.
  • Bender, as well as every other robot, does this on Futurama. Played for Laughs when after doing it, Bender declares the book "alright..."
    • Taken Up to Eleven in an episode of the sixth season where Bender gains Super Intelligence after being overclocked and proceeds to read the Professor's whole library in seconds. In fact, he starts overheating from his sheer reading speed and he has to jury-rig a new cooling system for himself.
  • In the DuckTales movie Treasure of the Lost Lamp, the young genie character reads all of the encyclopedia set in the ten seconds he was off-screen, though this may be more to do with him being magic and a Keet than being super-intelligent.

Real Life
  • Theodore Roosevelt could read an entire page in the time it took anyone else to read a single sentence.

Super SpeedVelocity IndexToo Fast to Stop
Super SmokeStock SuperpowersSuper Senses
Super IntelligenceIntelligence TropesTeen Genius

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