PCVs binge reading in the Peace Corps

 

The New York Times on Sunday, May 5, 2018 had an interesting article by writer Ben Dolnick entitled, “Why You Should Binge Read” how when he lost power and he was unable to watch Netflix or “engage in my customary internet fugue” he started reading and the joy and satisfaction he got from binge reading.

Well, he got a lot of comments. The ones from PCVs and RPCVs struck home with me, as they will with you. Here is what a few PCVs and RPCVs had to say as they remembered that time in their lives.

 

Jean
Ethiopia

There is nothing quite like the pleasure of living inside a well written novel for a few days. I am currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia with limited access to internet and no television. I read a lot of fiction, usually several books a week and it keeps me very happy. I never regret the time I spend reading, it is one of the greatest joys of my life.

 

Shelley Dreyer-Green
Woodway, WA

Jean I accumulated my own library while a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia from 1976 through 1978. I read all the classics I’d missed as an English undergraduate as well as current literary and popular fiction, history, philosophy, science, science fiction, and the various social sciences. I’ve continued to read voraciously during the forty years since, but never with such freedom from distraction and relaxed intensity. Enjoy!

 

Hollis
Barcelona

I was a Peace Corps trainee in Mauritania and remember devouring Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild whilst riding in a Land Cruiser across the Sahel. Enjoy your reading and you’re right it’s a rich experience; probably letter writing too. I used to send some epic letters!

 

Bubbles
Burlington, VT

@Jean I remember vividly so many of the books I read as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. Without tv, internet, or a phone to distract me, I spent hours each night under my mosquito net just reading. Now that I’ve returned I try to recreate that focus I had, but it can be difficult. Enjoy your service — there’s nothing like it!

kathryn
boston

Jean — We read well over 100 books during our 2.25 years of service, but 1/2 non-fiction. I still remember Lies My Teacher Told Me.

 

Joe Johnston

Jean — My wife and I did the same while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic in the ‘80’s.

 

vanessa
dc11

@Jean When I read this comment, there were 6 replies to it. I knew – knew! – all of them would be former Peace Corps Volunteers, and I was right, haha. 🙂 Before my service, it took me such an effort to read through parts of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road.” During my down time in the village, I breezed through it, fully astonished by his glorious prose. I didn’t quite get it while I was trying to ingest it piecemeal. But how the silence, stillness, and steadfastness allowed me to see. Peace Corps Georgia 2013-15

 

joan
sarasota

Jean, I was a PCV 63-64 in the mountains of Colombia. No electronics. In those days Peace Corps issued us a large box of selected paperback books. Wonderful! As there weren’t enough to last our full tours, there were two of us sharing the book box, we read slowly, truly for meaning, not wanting to miss the smallest nuance, not wanting the book to end, the box to empty. For a similar reason, we didn’t want to spoil an unread book for the other person, we didn’t discuss the book we were reading with partner until she had read it too. The wonderful exception was The Alexandria Quartet. No spoilers, but remarks “Oh, I wonder if Eva really is so selfish?” A history major, as perhaps half the Community Development/Public Health Volunteers were in those days, I loved to read. But the Peace Corps book box experience taught me to open a book about which I knew nothing about the book or author, with not only an open mind but also anticipation. Ahhh.

 

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  • Peace Corps gave us a book locker which had a lot of Ian Fleming’s James Bond’s books. Lacking a radio, phone and other electronic devices and no entertainment except bars and occasional PC parties, I read every book in the locker

  • Thanks John for these wonderful posts from PCV &RPCV readers. They returned me to my own exhilarating exploration of the Peace Corps Book Locker in Brasil (1964-66). Like William I think I read every book in the locker. I also helped start a public library in my host town. In the final month before my departure I donated all my locker paperbacks (in English) to that library, which had a public-funded parttime librarian by then.

    After I left I heard from friends in that town that the public library had its ups and downs in the following years but much of the collection ended up in the library of a private secondary school (the only one in town). Don’t know what happened after that but suspect the years have swallowed any surviving paperbacks. No matter, they served multiple noble purposes.

    Cheers,
    Vic

    Goleta, CA

  • We did not have a Book Locker when I served in Honduras (1975-1977). However, the PC office had a library of donated books that we were free to take. A friend of mine back home also sent a huge box of books. Since I had no radio, no stereo, no television (personal computers had not been invented yet), I read every night. Aside from dozens of technical books about construction and urban planning, there were dozens more of fiction and autobiography. The books that made the biggest impression on me were The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, Zen and the Art Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell and Lonesome Traveler by Jack Kerouac. Years later, I met Lawrence Ferlinghetti at a San Francisco cocktail party and got to talk about Kerouac with his publisher. Life is crazy, baby.

  • As a Country Director in Afghanistan ( 1966-68) I didn’t have any time to read books! The PCV’s kept me busy , along with dealing with the Embassy, Washington, the Afghan bureaucracy, and not least being their father to myn 3 kids and husband to my wife. I envied those testimonies to reading the locker( which our PCV’s did have.) On the other hand, the experience
    itself was enough to keep one awake even into the night. Like the Marine guard who called me at 2 AM and asked if a 19-year old Afghan had permission to drive a PC Travelall. Or the Major General of the Peshawar air base whose voice and expletives .blasted out of the telephone receiver in my house, complaining about PCVs’ behavior on his base. Yes, my wife and I took the chance to go to Bamiyan and see the 125 ft tall Buddhas before the Taliban blew them up, or my family on vacation in Ceylon for Christmas. The life we led led my wife to write a book ( Letters from Kabul, by Janice Minott) and my 100-odd “Glimpses of Afghanistan” on PeaceCorpsonline many years after the actual experiences! It changed our lives and I am so grateful for that opportunity, and the friendships with PCv’s whom I served with to this day.

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