Rants & Reflections

Intensive VS extensive reading: what’s the difference… and which is better?

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?


Happy reading!


35 thoughts on “Intensive VS extensive reading: what’s the difference… and which is better?”

  1. This is a great post. When I was setting my Goodreads challenge for this year, I took some time to reflect on what I was reading and why. I had definitely been letting my need to reduce my TBR and meet my reading challenge influence the books I was reading. I set a lower challenge for this year in order to shift (if only slightly) from lots of books to reading more books and savouring them more. That said, I love the fact that we have sooo many books to pick from, and would not trade that in for only having a limited selection to read from.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! That’s cool that you made that a conscious decision, I totally just pick a number that I think is reasonable without much more thought. And I agree, I’d rather have too much to read than not enough!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do think I’m more of an extensive reader, and as much as I know that I should shift toward intensive reading, there is just so much that I am interested in and I want to read it all at once! It is quite impossible to limit yourself when you love reading. I don’t know if one is better than the other but I think I agree with you – the answer is probably “somewhere in between”.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting question! I agree with you that an argument could probably be made either way, but if I HAD to pick one, I would say intensive reading is better. (Possibly hypocritical since I read a lot even though I also reflect a lot? I don’t know.) BUT, I think most avid readers frequently talk about the “benefits of reading” or things they gained or learned from books (how books influenced them). This is something, I believe, that comes from intensive reading. I read a lot of books a year I don’t even remember the next year, In that sense, I sometimes wonder what the point of reading the book was at all. For entertainment? That’s not inherently bad? But if we’re passively consuming what we read and not reflecting much on it, than I hesitate to claim reading is a “better” or “more rewarding” hobby than, say, watching television passively.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! I absolutely agree – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading something for entertainment, but that if you want to really “get something” out of what you read, intensive is better. What I think separates it from watching TV is that you can pause and reflect at any time and even go back and reread a sentence or paragraph/speed up or slow down how you want, and TV doesn’t allow you to do that (unless you keep pausing and rewinding it, lol), even if reading for entertainment.


  4. I love this discussion, Emily! I think for me, intensive reading is more important, because I am a slow reader and I don’t get to read a lot of books! My pace allows me to read a book over a few days, which allows me to be immersed in that world and think (and reflect) about different things in it. Extensive reading is great, of course — broadening your prospects (is that the saying??? XD ) and just reading all those books on your TBR, but for me, intensive reading is the right fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I do both! Intensive reading as I beta read for several authors and have to ponder about the book, the plot, the topics, the characters, etc. and extensive as I need to feed my addiction. Plus all these new books and people raving about them so I need to put my greedy hands on these LOL Intensive is also better for some types of books as “How to be happy: keys to happiness “etc. Slef help books ask you to ponder them and question what they’re trying to teach you. I love the topics and debates about bookish stuff in general 😉

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thought-provoking question, Emily. The ‘answer’ for me is – as you said – that “it depends”.
        Some books are fast food, meant to be consumed quickly then forgotten about; others are so rich with mind-altering concepts or beautiful writing that it would be a shame not to go back to them again and again… or at the very least, to sit contentedly and reflect on what you have just enjoyed.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. This is a really great post and it was nicely organised and written 😊
    I never thought about reading intensively and extensively until now and I’m really glad you brought the issue up…
    I would say I’m more of an extensive reader… but now I need to go back and have a look at my tbr shelf again 😜

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I find the drive towards extensive reading a little concerning, especially in terms of professionalization. It’s really not possible to read all the books out there even if you limit yourself to the YA market or to rhet/comp releases or the latest criticism in medieval studies or whatever it is you are interested in/do for a living. This leads people to skim things or read only parts in an attempt to make it look as though they have read everything they are “supposed to” have read. There is something to be said for at least being familiar with various works but it also feels…maybe a little disingenuous? Like you almost have to fake having read everything in order to be taken seriously. But there’s some value to immersing yourself in works that really interest you instead of trying to keep up all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a wonderful subject!! I think the key is balance- like you said in this post, there are good sides to both- what I try to read is to binge read some books and try and savour others. I think personally I tend to read in phases and try to order my reading to get the best of both worlds- so if I plan to read a few easier books I’m likely to whizz through, I try to line up something heavier to go next

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Great post and discussion. I would fall into the “extensive” category, as I read a little more than a book per week. I am reading for pleasure, rather than for a class or planning a unit, so I don’t spend as much time thinking over all the nuances. Sometimes I wish I did have more of a reason to discuss and reflect on a book – but that’s when I head to Goodreads to see how other people felt about the book and join in on a discussion, or look for a fellow blogger who has said something about the same book and commenting on their page. It’s also why I enjoy keeping up (barely!) a blog. If there is a book that really struck me, I usually end up writing about it in a post. Sometimes extensive reading can be a problem though, as recently, I wasn’t sure if I had read a certain book and I had to consult my Goodreads account before checking it out. Turns out, I had read the book, and I had even written a review for it. Oops. Guess slowing down wouldn’t be a terrible idea… Just not sure I really want to!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a wonderful post! I would have to say I’m a intensive reading but I’m not sure either one is better. After reading a book I like to wait at least a day before starting another one I like to give books time to sit with me so I can reflect on them. I also like to take my time reading most books I make myself read it slower then normal so I can savor it. There are sometimes though when I read a book in a day or read a trilogy over one weekend it just depends on the book and my mood.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Interesting thought! I think most people in the book blogging community read A LOT. I know some bloggers who read so much I think they mostly forget what the books they read about within months after reading it. I think it’s also coming from the pressure by other bloggers who read so much, and people feel like they’re forced to read as much as the others.
    For me, I’m not a fast reader and I do reflect quite a lot on the books I read, but I do read a large range of genres and try to read as much as I can. In that case I guess I’m more of an intensive reader!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Very interesting post. I find that since I started blogging, I have been pondering what I have just read a little more than just enjoying it and moving on.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ah I love this discussion! I had never really thought about it before, but you’re right, I think it’s somewhere in between. It’s nice to read a lot, but if you don’t stop to think about what you just read it doesn’t really seem worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fascinating post! I’m a big fan of extensive reading (though I don’t manage quite as many books in a year as many other readers do) because I love discovering new ideas and worlds and I’m not a big fan of re-reading books.

    That said, I don’t like to move on from a good book without some reflection or analysis of on the experience… which I guess is why I try to do that through discussions with other readers, book clubs, or blogging (I don’t write reviews but my posts are often inspired by a book that fascinated me in some particular way). I also feel like I reflect on audiobooks more, because it is a slower ‘reading’ process and I have more pauses between listening sessions to think about it. Maybe that’s why I like them more than physical books… who knows!

    It is a good idea though to place importance not just on the amount of books read but also on the depth of the reading experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That’s really interesting, I hadn’t thought about audiobooks. I don’t like them because my mind wanders too easily lol, but I can see how they take longer and leave reflection time between chapters. I also think pausing and rereading sentences while you read is important, and that might be harder to do with audio unless you pause and rewind. That’s another reason I prefer print, it allows my own speed and style. I am listening to an audiobook for the first time in a long time for a class right now and I am actually quite enjoying it though!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah yes, with audiobooks you do miss things that’s true, and can’t reread as easily (though if I miss something important I often use the jump back 30sec button). My mind does tend to wander when I’ve just started one (so not into the story yet), if I try to do a task that requires too much brain power at the same time, if I don’t do any task at all (I get antsy if I’m just sitting there listening) or if the book is just boring. But if it’s brilliant it usually has my full attention, and I love it when a narrator brings beautiful writing to life. Anyway, nice you’re enjoying that one now, maybe if it’s good enough it’ll convince you to listen to more of them 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I really like this post! It’s a great topic of discussion. Personally, I am more of a fan of intensive reading, however, in my experience that often leads to extensive reading. For example, I may read a book very closely and intensely, and if I love it, I’ll seek out more like that and begin extensively reading books that fit in that category. However, in general, I am an intensive reader, and I think you get a lot more out of reading when it is taken slowly and thought through critically. My opinion, however, is probably influenced by the fact that I am a teacher. That’s part of the whole Common Core movement – creating standards that require meaningful, critical thinking. My grade level has been trying to decrease the number of books we read as a class to better increase comprehension. There are downsides to that though. First, if it’s not a story students are invested in, they’re stuck with it for a long time. Second, less exposure to different types of books.
    Bottom line, I can’t say what’s better! But it is an interesting dilema to study.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PREACH! I taught high school English, so I definitely feel you on Common Core. And that’s a great point about intensive reading leading to extensive reading, I think there’s a definite relationship between the two and it’s never really one or the other.


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