Multiple books syndrome

I read. This is no secret, and I would hardly be running a reading blog if I didn’t, but there’s more to my reading than just reading one book after another. I read multiple books at a time. This may just be pure biblio-gluttony on my behalf, but I like to think it’s simply because for me books are like food, and I like variety in my reading fare just as I do in my culinary diet.

When I go to a lunch buffet, I don’t restrict myself to just one dish – I try to sample as many as I can, reject some and go for seconds of others. Since I have a TBR stack of nearly 900 books, a collection of over 1500 possible rereads and a small but beguiling pile of library books by my bedside, I look upon these books much as I do a buffet. A very large buffet, to be sure, but one I know I can make it through with steady effort.

I used to be a ‘one book at a time’ girl, but when I started secondary school this became impossible. Besides all the non-literature subjects like history and mathematics, by the time I was in my fourth and final year I had literature to read in 4 languages. The different languages made it easy to remember which book was which, but in college all the books I read were in the same language and I would be simultaneously reading for several different literature courses. For example I remember reading Hawthorne (19th century American literature), Ian McEwan (modern British literature), and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology all at the same time, while also reading Terry Pratchett for fun. No surprise: I emerged from college with the ability to keep multiple books on the go without getting confused. It had also become a habit.

Reading several books at a time is actually easy once it is a habit, as long as they belong to different genres. I would never read two mysteries at the same time, or two travelogues, but one travelogue and one mystery together is fine.

I usually have one book on the go for each room in my flat, but I may not touch some of them for days on end while I concentrate on others.

I take the big, heavy books to bed with me. My current bed-time reads are a brick-thick edition of Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle and an even bigger encyclopedic dictionary to look up all the science jargon.

The smaller, shorter books I read in the living room or my spare bedroom/work-room/library, depending on where I have dragged my reading couch (it’s currently in the living room, since my brother is temporarily residing in the spare bedroom). I am currently re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in between decluttering efforts in there (having had to move all the junk from the spare bedroom to the living room to make room for my brother).

The kitchen books are often collections of essays or articles that can be read in the course of one or two meals. I have learned not to read cook-books while I eat, as they tend to increase my appetite, but foodie books are fine. However, my current kitchen read is a novel, Jack Finney’s Time and Again, but I expect once the action picks up I will move it to the living room.

The toilet books tend to be something short I can grab and read piecemeal, often at random, while I do my business, like Mad books or other cartoons, Ripley’s Believe It or Not books and other trivia, or magazines.

So, dear reader, do you read multiple books at a time? If you do, do you make sure they are different genres, or do you perhaps find it easy to read two or more in the same genre at the same time? Do you have a system for this, of do you just grab the nearest book when you feel like reading?


Tabitha said…
I'm so pleased to see there's someone else out there with as big a TBR pile as I have! I'm not all that confident I'll ever make my way through all mine, plus library books and loans from friends, but it's fun trying. I do read several books at a time, but there's no special plan to it. Sometimes I can have up to 6 books on the go but eventually that will bug me and I'll make an effort to finish up a few before starting any more.
I have discovered that I don't have a pattern for reading! Sometimes I'll devote myself entirely to a single book while at other times, I'll have a few on the go at once. Do yuo always like to finish a book you start? I have read varying opinions on this but I am still one of those who feels I have let myself down if I don't persist until the end. I think this is particularly because there have been some real gems have read that took some time to get into and enjoy...
Bibliophile said…
Nomad, I don't always finish the books I start reading, although if I own them, I usually give them another chance (or two) before I cull them. In my experience, any story that hasn't taken off after you've read 20% of the pages isn't going to improve.

To quote Sara Nelson:
"Allowing yourself to stop reading a book-at page 25, 50, or even, less frequently, a few chapters from the end-is a rite of passage in a reader's life, the literary equivalent of a bar mitzvah or a communion, the moment at which you look at yourself and announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions."

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