I don’t think about the speed at which anyone reading my writing might choose to use. When I write fiction, probably half my labor in revision is hunting ways to cut words, if not larger units, in a ceaseless quest for a tighter written style. The result of those labors may be enjoyed (hopes me) at a pace fast or slow, at the reader’s pleasure.

My nonfiction writing has mostly been scientific or technical, often mathematical. Different beast. The prose style for that kind of writing need not have a high polish, but it must be clear. I assume the reader may want to pause and think along the way. It’s possible to do a kind of speed-reading of fairly mathematical writing if one wants to follow the top-level reasoning, but any serious engagement requires close reading. If it’s important, go back for that second (or third) pass.

Then there is the role of equations in mathematical exposition. Including lots of equations generally makes a paper easier to follow, cos’ you get to see more of the steps. It also slows you down, you hope to the point you’re not reading faster than you can think.

Custom, however, places a premium on brevity. (Also known in some circles as elegance.) The originality or conceptual difficulty of mathematical writing has no necessary relationship to its length, or how many equations are strewn about the page. A favorite of mine is the collected works of Andrei Sakharov. (Although I could read scientific Russian at one time, I encountered Sakharov in English, in an earlier part of my career.) I don’t think a one of his papers came to more than ten pages printed, and those with equations, had few. In every instance, however, Sakharov went for the jugular. These were papers to read fast, then, many times over, slowly.

One can multiply examples. The proof of Lemma one, Section 1, Book 1 of the *Principia*: Newton used two sentences, no equations, to prove a result that underlies everything in calculus. The paper that established the entire field of Raman spectroscopy was a few hundred words, no equations, *and is an experimental paper*. Maybe the best of all: Max Born received the Physics Nobel for writing a footnote. It was one hell of a footnote, though! Everything in quantum mechanics depends on the Born rule for going from wave function to probability.

All these examples (I had to force myself to stop, I promise not to mention Galois or John Nash) share something. The person who wrote them made it look easy, when of course it was anything but easy to make these discoveries.

I certainly went *off-piste*, if not off topic for this thread. Let me close with a literary counterpart to the foregoing. Joyce’s *Ulysses* is justly famous, and fun to read (especially if, like me, you have a relative Joyce mentions along the way). No way would I call it a fast read for me, however. Now, Virginia Woolf. *Mrs. Dalloway.* I devoured it, almost in a single sitting. Woolf makes it look easy.