Thursday, August 29, 2019

Scan Artist

Scan Artist by Marcia Biederman
Chicago Review Press, Inc., 9/3/19
eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781641601627

Scan Artist: How Evelyn Wood Convinced the World That Speed-Reading Worked by Marcia Biederman is a highly recommended examination of the life of Evelyn Wood and her Reading Dynamics program.

As a fan of Saturday Night Live, I saw the hilarious third season mock commercial on 11/12/77 about the "Evelyn Woodski Slow Reading Course." For anyone who lived through the 60s and 70's', the name Evelyn Wood is closely associated with speed reading through her Reading Dynamics Institutes/classes which were widely advertised and held in many different cities across the country. As many people suspected, her program, advertising that program graduates could read Dr. Zhivago in one hour, were really a scam. She was, as many reading specialists, like George Spache, kept saying, teaching skimming, not reading, and the comprehension of what participants read was lacking. Wood was actually not a trained or veteran teacher, as she claimed.
Biederman presents this biography of Wood following her Mormon background and the missionary work she and her husband undertook with the Third Reich. Once she started her speed reading program, Wood was quick to market her program through those well-known individuals who took it, especially those in government. Many of her claims and connections to fame were exaggerated or misstated. Those who repeatedly tried to unmask Wood and the program were threatened with lawsuits, and labeled as narrow-minded. During the heyday of Reading Dynamics those who were dissatisfied with results from the expensive program were often blamed for their own lack of success and had no real recourse other than the Better Business Bureaus. She also actively suppressed or opposed all the scientific evidence about the lack of comprehension with her program.
Presented in a chronological timeline, Scan Artist covers the life of Evelyn Wood and her rise to fame as a reading teacher. While I thought this was a very interesting biography, Wood doesn't necessarily come across as a dynamic or compelling person. In some ways she was small-minded and downright cold/cruel at times, but she did have a lot of unmerited confidence in herself and speed reading. It was unfathomable that she got away with this scam for so long and managed to have people doubt themselves rather than the effectiveness of the system. Biederman does an excellent job capturing the historical setting and concerns of the decades covered.

I wanted to read this biography because I have always been a prolific reader and, although I haven't a clue what my reading speed is, I get along at a good pace with good comprehension. I know, however, I could never approach the "Dr. Zhivago-in-one-hour" level. I actually read everything I review, but I noticed over the years a few reviewers who seem to be reading dozens of books a day. When questioned, one claimed to be a speed reader. Based on the reviews, which seemed to just summarize the synopsis, I doubted the credibility of this claim. This biography confirmed my doubts.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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