'Word Runner' On Kindle Is The Tool You Need To Use If You're Having Trouble Finishing A Difficult Book

Stuck on a chapter in that classic work of literature you've always wanted to read? A Kindle feature you probably aren't using could help you finish that challenging book. Word Runner has been available on Kindle e-readers since 2015, and it's a lifesaver when it comes to reading difficult books.

Word Runner works via rapid serial visual presentation, which is a fancy way of saying that it displays one word at a time in the center of your Kindle screen as it "reads" through the text. You can set Word Runner to speeds of 100 to 900 words per minute, but the Kindle feature uses Dynamic Pacing to slow down at difficult words, commas, periods, and other punctuation marks.

Now, it's worth mentioning that, even though it may sound like Word Runner will turn you into a speed reader, you shouldn't plan to power through that 40,000-word novella in 45 minutes. You could, but you probably wouldn't comprehend much about what happened in the story, simply because speed reading isn't really possible. You can't double your top reading speed and expect to still fully comprehend every word of a text.

That's true even if you're a fast reader to begin with. For example, I can read most texts at about 750 words per minute with 80 percent comprehension, but that isn't true of every piece of writing. I have to read slower when I'm working my way through a difficult text, and I naturally read slower when I'm distracted by noise or other factors.

Kindle on YouTube

Still, Word Runner can help you work through a difficult or boring text. About 10 percent of your reading time is spent moving your eyes back and forth along a line, and when the passage you're reading is difficult, or when you've been reading for a long time, that little bit of time saved can help you plow through the last 20 percent of your giant Russian novel. Although the jury is still out as to whether or not Word Runner and similar apps can reduce eye strain, I can tell you that, in my experience, this Kindle feature makes it possible for me to read further in the book and for longer periods of time without taking a break.

Rapid serial visual presentation also cuts down on something called subvocalization: the inner narrations you perform as you read a text in your head. It's quite difficult to stop yourself from subvocalizing, but I have found that, by setting Word Runner's speed to something higher than your normal reading rate for a particular text — again, more difficult texts = slower reading — I can out-read subvocalization and allow the text to just wash over me. As with eye strain, there's no real consensus as to how critical a role subvocalizations play in slowing down your reading speed, but my experience with Word Runner tells me that it works.

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, $8.98, Amazon

Let me give you a concrete example of how much Word Runner can help you make it through a challenging book. A few years ago, I heard about Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake, which is written in an invented approximation of Old English. It's a spectacular book, but it's challenging to read through a text that looks just different enough to be unfamiliar. You can read a long excerpt of The Wake here, but I've included a brief snippet for you below. Check it out:

"songs yes here is songs from a land forheawan folded under by a great slege a folc harried beatan a world brocen apart. all is open lic a wound unhealan and grene the world open and grene all men apart from the heorte. deofuls in the heofon all men with sweord when they sceolde be with plough the ground full not of seed but of my folc"

Like I said, The Wake is a difficult book. About halfway through, my eyes started to get tired, and I caught myself reading the same lines over and over again, trying to comprehend what Kingsnorth's narrator, Buccmaster, had to say. That's when I turned on Word Runner, and it changed everything.

Although I had been struggling to navigate a text in which "deofuls in the heofen" means "devils in the heavens," reading with a rapid serial visual presentation made me realize that I had read enough of The Wake to know the "rules" of how Kingsnorth's invented language worked. I just needed Word Runner to cut down on my subvocalization and make my eyes less tired. If you're struggling through a difficult book, it's definitely worth a shot.