Ohemgee, a new discussion post! Yaaaaaaaay!
So I just finished up what is now one of my favorite classes I’ve taken in my educational career: Literacy, Reading, and Readers. It is exactly what is sounds like. We discussed a wide range of topics about literacy, including the history of reading, cultural and socioeconomic aspects of reading, reading technologies, etc., etc., you name it. As you may know, I did my final project on book blogging (thanks to all who participated in my survey and helped me out with that!). One of the concepts that struck me that came up across several of our course readings was the idea of intensive vs. extensive reading. First, a few very fancy and scientific definitions I made up:
Intensive reading: reading a small number of books, but deeply
Extensive reading: reading a f— ton of books.
A long time ago (in our galaxy, on Earth) people who read books tended to only read a few books in their lifetime. Mostly religious texts. But even as print became more widespread, people didn’t typically own a large number of books; they were expensive and often large and cumbersome, so people would go to reading rooms or libraries if they wanted to read (but not purchase) books. As a result, the typical reading style of a literate person could be described as “intensive.” They only read a handful of books, but they read them over and over and took their time to read them, hence “intense”-ive. Additionally, there just wasn’t the crazy-endless amount of written word available that there is today, so people focused more on what they had.
Today, we have the crazy-endless amount of written word available, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. We have adapted by making apps like Goodreads to manage the massive quantity of books we consume. Our “read” lists grow, and for many of us, our “to-be-read” lists grow at an exponentially faster rate than our “read” lists and many of us suffer from I’m-going-to-die-before-I-can-read-all-the-books phobia. This is extensive reading at its finest.
This of course, raises the question: what to we gain or lose now that our reading culture in general is more extensive??
On the one hand, we gain a diversity of reading experiences that our forerunners did not have access to. In many cases, if you have the means and don’t mind reading ebooks, we are literally seconds away from a crazy-endless amount of diverse reading material. You could argue that we are smarter and more well-rounded because of this. But you could also argue that we are not smarter…
You could argue that extensive reading diminishes the critical, reflective thinking that intensive reading encourages. Literature (and art and media of all kinds) can be digested slowly, pondered over, discussed, picked apart, savored for hours, days, years on end. If we are constantly rushing to hit our Goodreads goals or get those TBR piles down, can we really say that our reading habits have improved over the centuries?
I’m aware I’m talking to other book bloggers here, and book bloggers by nature enjoy the pondering part of reading – otherwise we wouldn’t write reviews reflecting on our readings or discussion posts questioning related issues. But we also need to keep our blogs up and running, so there’s a limited amount of time until we kinda need to get on with the next book, the next topic of discussion.
Should we be putting forth an effort to read more intensively or continue our extensive ways? As with most things, I have a feeling the answer is either “it depends” or “somewhere in between.” Certainly some books require longer digestion periods, more pausing to ponder, more discussion and reflection than others. And there is something to be said for reading a diverse and large quantity of books, of being “well read” (the definition of which is another discussion for another time). So… what do you think? Are you more intensive or extensive? Do you think one is better than the other? What are we gaining or losing? Do you prefer one over the other?