Extensive Vs Intensive Reading

I wanted to read 200 books during my two years in The Gambia. Now I have finished my two years here and not achieved that goal, I ask myself – why did I even set it in the first place?

I can’t get away from a belief that if I read enough books the world will transform into an understandable place and I will be changed into an erudite and wise sage who reaps bounteous rewards. And calls himself erudite. Does extensive reading make you a better person or the world a more manageable place? I’m not so sure.

Michel de Montaigne expressed the dilemma of extensive reading in the sixteenth century:

I leaf through books, I do not study them, what I retain of them is something I no longer recognize as anyone else’s. It is only the material from which my judgements has profited, and the thoughts and ideas with which it has become imbued; the author, the place, the words, and the other circumstances, I immediately forget.

I look at the list of books I have read here and many of the books have faded from my mind. For the hours that I devoted to some books all I have in return is maybe a vague two sentence synopsis. In my attempt to read extensively, I forgot to read intensively, I valued quantity over quality with the result that there was very little for me to take away from the endeavor. Other than a list.

I have tried to rectify this – I slowed down, I reread some books, I took notes, I highlighted, I wrote short critical judgments on some books. Whilst my pace has slackened and I cannot impress people with the accolade of having read 200 books in two years (although I’m pretty sure such hubris is more annoying than impressive), I have begun to enjoy reading more. Giving myself space to think about what I have read, to go back over interesting things, to only read when my mind is nimble enough to absorb information, has reignited my passion for reading.

Returning to an internet fueled word I worry that I will lose the ability to intensively read. The internet, the apotheosis of extensive reading, discourages intensive contemplation, it encourages flights of fancy and transmits a literal ADHD. I know whoever has read this far has resisted the urge to click away to some new distraction. Resist no more, it’s over.

Highlighted books are recommended reads for Peace Corps Volunteers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  1. Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux
  2. No One Belongs Here More Than You – Miranda July
  3. Raise High The Roof Beams Carpenters – J.D Salinger
  4. Steppenwolf – Hermann Hesse
  5. Siddartha – Hermann Hesse
  6. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  7. We Shall Know Our Velocity – Dave Eggers
  8. What Is The What – Dave Eggers
  9. Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
  10. High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
  11. Slow Man – J.M Coetzee
  12. Waiting For The Barbarians – J.M Coetzee
  13. The Unbearable Lightness Of Being – Milan Kundera
  14. A Good Man In Africa – William Boyd
  15. Let The Great World Spin – Colum McCann
  16. Africa United: How Football Explains Africa – Steve Bloomfield
  17. Burmese Days – George Orwell
  18. The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff
  19. The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
  20. I Am Charlotte Simmons – Thom Wolfe
  21. The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
  22. Crash – J.G Ballard
  23. The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
  24. The Portable Atheist – Christopher Hitchens
  25. The Innocent – Ian Mcewan
  26. Black Dogs – Ian Mcewan
  27. Heart Of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  28. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  29. The Myth Of Sisyphus – Albert Camus
  30. A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
  31. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
  32. Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk
  33. No Country For Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
  34. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  35. The Liar – Stephen Fry
  36. Tender Is The Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  37. The Trial – Franz Kafka
  38. The Constant Gardener – John le Carre
  39. The God Of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
  40. Swanns Way – Marcel Proust
  41. To The Lighthouse – Virginia Wolf
  42. Homage To Catalonia – George Orwell
  43. The Bottom Billion – Paul Collier
  44. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
  45. The Comfort Of Strangers – Ian McEwan
  46. Last Orders At Harrods – Michael Holman
  47. Pride And Prejudice – Jane Austen
  48. Snuff – Chuck Palahniuk
  49. All The Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy
  50. The Road To Hell – Michael Maren
  51. Fry: A Memoir – Stephen Fry
  52. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time – Mark Haddon
  53. The Audacity Of Hope – Barack Obama
  54. Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  55. We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land – Jimmy Carter
  56. Game Of Thrones – George R. R Martin
  57. A Clash of Kings – George R. R Martin
  58. A Storm Of Swords – George R. R Martin
  59. A Feast For Crows – George R. R Martin
  60. A Dance With Dragons – George R. R Martin
  61. Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength – Roy Baumeister
  62. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  63. Outliers: The Story Of Success – Malcolm Gladwell
  64. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
  65. The Old Man And The Sea – Ernest Hemingway
  66. Lucky Jim – Kinsley Amis
  67. Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking Of The Way To Fight Global Poverty – Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo
  68. The Master And Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
  69. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
  70. Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
  71. Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby
  72. Homicide: A Life On The Killing Streets – David Simon
  73. Hideous Kinky – Esther Freud
  74. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  75. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  76. What The Dog Saw And Other Adventures – Malcolm Gladwell
  77. The Accidental Billionaires – Ben Mezrich
  78. The Facebook Effect – David Kirkpatrick
  79. Contact – Carl Sagan
  80. Enders Game – Orson Scott Card
  81. Coming Up For Air – George Orwell
  82. Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
  83. Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
  84. My Other Life – Paul Theroux
  85. What Can Foreign Aid Do For The Worlds Poor? – William Easterly
  86. The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan
  87. The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  88. Walden and On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau
  89. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  90. The Subterraneans – Jack Kerouac
  91. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  92. The Quiet American – Graham Greene
  93. The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles
  94. Books Vs Cigarettes – George Orwell
  95. Rabbit, Run – John Updike
  96. Imperial Bedrooms – Bret Easton Ellis
  97. Dead Aid – Dambisa Moyo
  98. Freakonomics – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  99. Superfreakonomics – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  100. Nausea – Jean Paul Sartre
  101. Franny And Zooey – J.D Salinger
  102. Gang Leader For A Day – Sudhir Venkatash
  103. The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  104. 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
  105. The Internet Is A Playground – David Thorne
  106. NW – Zadie Smith
  107. Through The Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages – Guy Deutscher
  108. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carre
  109. Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
  110. Bicycle Diaries – David Byrne
  111. The Untold History of The United States – Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick
  112. The Catcher in The Rye – J.D Salinger
  113. Denialism: How Irrational Thought Hinders Scientific Progress – Michael Spector
  114. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  115. Quiet: The Power of Introverts – Susan Cain
  116. Not a Star and Otherwise Pandemonium – Nick Hornby
  117. A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby
  118. I Am America (And So Can You) – Stephen Colbert
  119. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
  120. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  121. The Language Wars – Henry Hitchings
  122. Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan
  123. Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre
  124. Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer
  125. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens
  126. Humboldt’s Gift – Saul Bellow
  127. The Right Stuff – Tom Wolfe
  128. The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama – David Remnick
  129. A Man in Full – Tom Wolfe
  130. The Kingdom By The Sea – Paul Theroux
  131. The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
  132. On Kindness – Adam Phillips & Barbara Taylor
  133. A Confederancy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  134. Frank Sinatra has a Cold – Gay Talese
  135. The Ordinary Person’s Guide To Empire – Arundhati Roy
  136. Beasts of No Nation – Uzodinma Iweala
  137. Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
  138. Africa’s Turn – Edward Miguel
  139. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness – Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
  140. The Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  141. Bring Up The Bodies-       Hilary Mantel
  142. Experience –       Martin Amis
  143. The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence – Martin Meredith
  144. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakamai
  145. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  146. Nine Stories – J.D Salinger
  147. Boomerang – Michael Lewis
  148. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  149. How Music Works – David Byrne
  150. God is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens
  151. Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
  152. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
  153. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
  154. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character – Paul Tough
  155. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
  156. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
  157. The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
  158. Moneyball – Michael Lewis
  159. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World – Niall Ferguson
  160. Googled – Ken Auletta
  161. The Business Wisdom of Steve Jobs – Alan Ken Thomas
  162. The Big Short –Michael Lewis
  163. Naked Economics – Charles Wheelan
  164. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  165. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  166. The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory – David Plouffe
  167. White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  168. The Upside of Irrationality – Dan Ariely
  169. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  170. Naked Lunch – William S.Burroughs
  171. The Blind Side – Michael Lewis
  172. Letter to My Daughter – Maya Angelou
  173. Choke –Chuck Palahniuk
  174. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. – Adelle Waldman
  175. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything – Joshua Foer
  176. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H Lawrence
  177. Think Like a Freak – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
  178. Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  179. Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
  180. The Tyranny of Experts – William Easterley
  181. Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell
  182. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  183. 1984 – George Orwell
  184. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  185. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
  186. Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley
  187. Netherland – Joseph O’Neill
  188. The Business Solution to Poverty – Paul Polak & Mal Warwick
  189. Jane Eyre –       Charlotte Bronte
  190. A Million Little Pieces – James Frey
  191. Naked Statistics – Charles Wheelan
  192. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  193. Drive – Daniel Pink
  194. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

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