No, this post isn't about speed reading. In the spirit of speed reading, though, I'll make this post mercifully short.
In my last post on programming languages I said that you should learn one language really well before you start branching out into other languages. Understanding programming concepts at a deep level is more important than learning the syntax of many different languages, but it can also help you learn new languages more quickly too.
Once you're at the point where you're ready to learn a new language, what do you do? Do you pick up a copy of "Learn Blub in 10 Minutes a Day" and slog through 24 boring chapters about the syntax of a new language? Or do you spend an entire year going through SICP, watching the video lectures, and doing the exercises? (I keep meaning to do that.)
No matter which path to enlightenment you choose, I have a quick tip that will help you get through any programming book faster. It allows you to apply concepts from languages you already know to the new language that you're learning. Ready to hear what it is? Here you go:
Do the problems at the end of each chapter first, then go back through and read the chapter. If you can't actually do the problems yet, at least read them and try to understand what they're asking.
This method works for two reasons. First, reading the questions and exercises at the end of the chapter gives you more accurate information about what's important in that chapter than even the title and section headings. If you read a question about while loops, for example, you're going to be paying attention for that topic when you read through the chapter. Second, it tells you what you already know, and can skip over. If you read a question about while loops, for example, you know that you can skim that chapter quickly or skip it altogether because you're already familiar with the concept.
This is the method I use when I need to learn a language in a weekend so I can use it in my project on Monday. It really works, but don't take my word for it. I know you have a Sam's book hidden away somewhere so no one will catch you reading it. Don't be ashamed. Okay, maybe a little shame is in order, but maybe if you get through it fast enough, no one will catch you.