I was almost 35 when I found out that all of you voracious, fast, “good readers” have been CHEATING FOR THIS ENTIRE TIME.

No one told me that reading doesn’t have to be Alec Baldwin’s voice in your head, speaking aloud every word of every sentence in perfect dramatic cadence.

There’s a word for this, it’s called “subvocalization,” and it’s why it takes me two months to read a book that my wife can “read” in three days. It’s also one of the reasons I’ve felt like a stupid and inadequate reader my whole life.

I’ve tried six or eleven methods to stop subvocalizing but it always goes a) this is uncomfortable and disrespectful to the person who has crafted these words, b) I’m cheating, c) why am I cheating?, d) am I getting any of this?, and e) back to Alec Baldwin’s dulcet tones.

Imagine a child reading aloud in class, tripping on a word or an incorrect emphasis in a sentence, then going back and starting that sentence again. This is how I read a book. This is what’s going on in my head. No one told me there was any other way to do this.

I guess I should have deduced from my basic understanding of physics and the time/space continuum when I saw the reading list of a graduate student or a bunch of discovery material in the hands of a lawyer that these motherfuckers aren’t actually reading this stuff.

But why didn’t you at least tell people like me the secret, like “Hey Zach, listen… no one is reading every word of these books. That’s not a thing. That takes forever. We just kind of figure out what the ideas are and move along.”

There have been a lot of people who have helped me in my life, but somehow, it never even occurred to a “fast reader” to let me know that they aren’t actually reading and that I can stop feeling like a big dummy.

In fact when I’ve told “fast readers” of my slowness, they’ve said “Oh, that is slow, poor guy.” That’s it.

I’d like to be charitable and say it’s just that they take it for granted but that would betray that upon discovering how to cheat they hid it for life.

Not charitable.

The one casualty of my subvocalization (listen to me, talking about actually reading words like it’s some kind of disease) is that I haven’t found time to read fiction as an adult. I write fiction, and I enjoy reading it, but I have work and kids and… that’s a lot of time.

You better believe that even if one day I do learn to consume nonfiction and history rapidly without subvocalization, I am not reading fiction that way. Hell no. Someone wrote that shit. There are characters experiencing things and shit. Every em dash has—dramatic meaning.

Are these words or what? Why spend time crafting a decent sentence when people are going to read them like bullets on a stock PowerPoint slide?

The truth is I’m bitter. I’ve got a bookcase full of books and I’ll never have time to read them all the way I want to.

I’m not bitter at the “fast readers” for this, because they don’t have time to read them either. I’m bitter at them because they’ll say they did.