Monday, March 18, 2013

The Art of Reading: Multiple Books vs. One at a Time


The Art of Reading: Multiple Books vs. One at a Time

All bibliophiles have at least one thing in common: the love of books. Still, as I'm reminded every time I talk to another reader, that doesn't mean we express our affection for the written word in exactly the same way. I'm referring to how we read.

This post's theme: multiple books versus one a time. How many books do you read at once? Only one from start to finish before you pick up another? Or do you juggle two or three depending on your mood? More than that?

My perspective on this has changed over the years. In the past, I only ever read one book at a time. When I met people who mentioned they had three books sitting on their bedside table, I couldn't quite wrap my head around this. At the time, it seemed to me that surely their focus suffers for juggling so many different stories at once. However, after a few years of encountering numerous people who read multiple books at once, I gave it a try. I'm a convert! In fact, I unleashed something and now I can have upwards of ten books at once that I'm actively reading. (My boyfriend complains that having a beside clock is pointless if the clock is blocked by a tower of books.)

The only disadvantage I see to reading more than one book is the split focus. Of course, after actually trying it, I find that's not nearly as much of a problem as I anticipated. Certainly, if one book finds itself overlooked for weeks while I'm switching off between four others, then I do struggle a bit to recall where I am and what has happened so far. However, as long as I make sure to read at least, say, one chapter every week or two in each individual book, that seems to be enough to keep me plugged into the story.

The advantages? Numerous. The first thing I noticed when I switched from reading one book at a time to reading multiple is how many books I read as much as tripled. Before, if a book wasn't holding my attention, I would crawl on through for up to 1-3 months. Now if a book isn't holding my attention, I set that one aside for now and pick up something I don't want to put down. This way how much I read is limited more by how much free time I have rather than whether or not my current book is a winner.

I also really enjoy the flexibility. In particular, I read a lot of very dark fantasy. I love how brilliant authors can teach me something by how they handle sensitive subject matter, but sometimes I just need a break from violence, betrayal, tragedy, etc. For example, I tore through Kate Carlisle's BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES series at a point when I needed something light to milk away the darkness. (They did the trick very well, by the way.) By reading multiple books at a time, I can look at what I'm reading and select whichever best fits my mood at the moment.

Along the same lines, some books are more portable than others. Gorgeous collectible editions and personally inscribed books are examples of ones that I don't like to move away from their safe perch by my bed. Yet I like to read when I'm on the elliptical or when I'm out and about on a rainy day. With multiple books on my bedside table, I can leave the ones I want in prime condition behind and take smaller or less coveted books with me when I leave the house.

Last it's nice for people with short attention spans. Some are surprised to learn this about me, since I do read a fair amount, but I hardly ever read very long in one sitting. I rarely read longer than an hour at a time and I'm even content to steal snippets of ten to fifteen minutes here and there rather than settle down all day with a book. In fact, I’m quite baffled by people who can sit down and read one book straight through. However, I have found something odd I enjoy doing: settling down all day with multiple books. I circle through them, reading one chapter at a time from each. Somehow switching between different stories holds my attention better than fixating on just one!

What about you? Do you read only one book at a time or do you like to juggle multiple? How many books can you have going at once? What do you like or dislike about reading multiple books at a time?

19 comments:

  1. Trying it now... but i must say it feels foriegn...like a big.commitment to both books lol but life needs flexibilty

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  2. Hi, great blog. I am currently reading 3 novels at once, all very different and that allows me to read with my mood. I also read about history and other non fiction at the same time. It feels like watching a bunch of TV programs over the week. When the series comes back on we have no trouble picking up where we left off. I feel the same about my novels.

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  3. Great post. Gonna give it a try and follow up after

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  4. But I have a question, don't you feel that you aren't giving justice to each wonderful book? Like I'm GONNA try multiple books but I don't want this diverted attention. What's better? Will I appreciate each book that way?,

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  5. @Anonymous - I think it depends on each person. Some people probably need to focus on one book at a time and that's fine. I thought that was me - I was very skeptical about reading multiple books at once - but when I tried it I was pleasantly surprised. If anything it helps emphasize the really good books. If a book is really good, you won't mix it up with the others you're reading.

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  6. Found this through Google search because I wanted to know if it worked for other people. I have 6-7 books going at any one time: One at the kitchen table; two in my office; one in the bathroom; one in my work backpack; one in my personal backpack; and one in my bedroom. They are each about something different so it's not difficult for me to pick up where I left off. I do some highlighting so I can always go back to the highlights for a refresher.

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  7. I clicked and read this blog post in the hopes of finding a reason to read more than one book at a time. I feel intrigued, but I love to immerse myself in books, feel every feeling the character is experiencing but I'm afraid that experience will be lost if I read different books at the same time. Has this happened to anyone reading multiple books? Are there any strategies/tips to prevent this, because I really want to give reading more than one book a try.

    This was a very informative post, it did help push me to want to try this new way of reading, but I guess I still need a few pointers.

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  8. @FrancesR: I don't know about strategies to make reading multiple books work for you; I think it depends on the individual. I will say, though, that I, too was incredibly skeptical about reading more than one book at a time before I actually tried it. I was surprised to realize it doesn't interrupt a story the way I worried it might. As long as it's a good book and the characters and plot are memorable, I won't have any difficulty immersing myself in the world even minutes after reading a chapter of something different.

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  9. Your post mirrors my exact sentiments! I look at reading multiple books in the same way as I think of real life conversations; just because I'm talking to one friend, doesn't mean I wouldn't interact with any other people, until her drama was resolved, right? Just like I don't lose my thread of thoughts when socialising for real, I don't find my attention waning by much when juggling several books simultaneously. I now have so many books going on at the same time that I've lost count. Who knows how long the slower books will take to finish, maybe months, even years. But I find myself zooming through the good books in no time. And shouldn't that be the ultimate aim of a bibliophile... to enjoy as many great books as you possible can?

    Thanks for putting out those feelers with your lovely post!

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  10. Haha, I really enjoyed reading this. I have a similar experience in that I too was initially a "one book at a time" person but have evolved into one who reads multiple books at a go. I guess the main push factor in this was as you said, being able to pick up a book that suits your mood at the time, otherwise I'd be stuck for months with one book that has ebbs and flow of interesting parts, now I can easily change to another book when the other slows down too much

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  11. I have been reading multiple books at time my entire life (48 years), Currently I juggle 3. I read a chapter and then go to the next book. I calculate how far I want progress in each book for that day. This avoids conflicts in chapter length (short chapters are harder to focus on otherwise). Multiple books helps maintain momentum. I am most surprised at how many people think you are doing some amazing feat by reading more than 1 book.

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  12. @anonymous - Agreed! Plenty of people are very impressed (even baffled) to learn that I read multiple books at a time. Though, as I mentioned in my post, I used to be one of those baffled people until I simply gave it a try myself.

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  13. Rachel, Thanks for sharing your perspective. I was rather confused about my decision to read multiple books together, however, I now feel much better about it. To be honest, I can't get myself to read for more than an hour either. After a couple of pages, I need to get up and move a little. I envy people who can just take a book and read it from cover to cover. Any tips on how you stay focused?

    -Palaash

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  14. @Palassh - Honestly, I don't take credit for staying focused on specific books. Good books don't take much effort on the part of me/the reader to pull me back into the story even when I've been reading others. Less good books blur with others and if I'm straining to tell a book apart from others that's an indicator it's not really that special.

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  15. Incredibly, i've really started to read book a year and a half ago. Since them i've found so many title and author that i am enjoying so much. I can not explain how it happens to see a new book while i am reading another.
    First, i was reading a book at a time, giving it a good time and reading in a way that i could understand every detail, as i wasnt used to read i did not have this ability to understand the setting, plot and everything well at once. After a few books i became able to do it. While i was reading a book that interested me a lot(the book was kinda big) i founf another title that i wanted so much to read but i thought about the one i was reading so i thought that i could read both at once, but first i started to read a bit o each but now i read as much as i can from one and when i read a lot i read the other. For me its wonderful to start reading and remember everythiing that have happened and then continue. It tests my undertanding about the book. Great post of yours. Bye.

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  16. Incredibly i started reading a year and a half ago. Actualy english book, but also enjoy reading. Because now when i finish one i already have 2 to be read.
    First, i was reading a book at a time, giving it a good time and reading in a way that i could understand every detail, as i wasnt used to read i did not have this ability to understand the setting, plot and everything well at once. After a few books i became able to do it. While i was reading a book that interested me a lot(the book was kinda big) i founf another title that i wanted so much to read but i thought about the one i was reading so i thought that i could read both at once, but first i started to read ass bit o each but now i read as much as i can from one and when i read a lot i read the other. For me its wonderful to start reading and remember everythiing that have happened and then continue. It tests my undertanding about the book. Great post of yours. Bye.

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  17. Good to see I am not alone in reading several books at a time. I went from three or four at a time to where I am currently reading eighteen at once, and like you, I really have no problem keeping up with the story lines, in fact, if anything my memory has improved with the added reading load. For me though I am just plain old greedy when it comes to books and when I see something I want to read it goes into immediate rotation, I have no will power to wait until I finish the books I am on, and most of the time the urge to begin the new book I just found is overwhelming. But not always, sometimes I can shelv it until I finish one of the books I am reading but then I run the risk of losing interest in it later on and it sits for months. One overlooked benefit to this way of reading is even though I might go a few weeks without finishing a book, when I do I finish several in quick time because I keep the same pace through most of my books, a few might demand more of my time and thus I am further along in those books, bust usually if I on page 100 of one book then I am on or near page 100 in all the others. When ever someone ask me what I am reading and I spend several minutes naming off the titles and authors, I normally get the same response, "why do you read more than one at a time? Isn't that confusing?" So when asked now I will just name one or two. Other than my son at Ohio State University, I know of no one else who reads this way and I am afraid I have ruined my son's reading habits but I am having to much fun to change now.

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    1. I am currently reading around 5 books.I thought it was kinda strange but boom..here I am .Thats how I found myself on this thread .Sometimes a book drags a bit and switching to another setting and different content all together fine tunes my brain and I am able to concentrate on all the books without losing focus .Switching to the Paulo Coelho made me easily navigate Elizabeth Gilbert's Yoga cessions I had found redundant in Eat,Love and Pray.

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  18. Reading many books at once has helped me to keep focused on sections the content is kinda redundant . Eckharte Tolle's The power of now' helped me navigate Elizabeth Gilbert's yoga retreat in Eat ,Love and Pray that I found rather sluggish.

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