Three Books at Once

As a readaholic, I love getting lost in a story, whether fiction or memoir. A recent Strib article discussed reading two novels at once as a hedge against running out of books. Being without a book to read is terrible, but that’s not why I’ve begun reading several at once.

For years, I read one book at a time, diligently plowing through like the good English major I was. Not only did I read one at a time, but I also doggedly finished what I started. 

Now those rules don’t hold me. If I don’t enjoy a book I ditch it. Life’s too short to read books I don’t like. Especially since there are so many books I can’t wait to read (The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang, The Pages by Hugo Hamilton, Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenridge).

Several things changed my habits.

Thanks to my two books groups, I’ve read and enjoyed many books I might not have picked up on my own (e.g., We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson, Grace by Paul Lynch). However, sometimes I’m lukewarm about the chosen book. I read it to be a good sport, but I start another book for fun. 

Occasionally, I choose difficult books because I want to be better informed about race, aging, Millennials, or whatever. I’m committed to reading them and I learn a lot, but they’re not plow-through-able. Weighty subjects need to be taken in smaller doses. In between, there’s the pleasure of fiction. 

I’ve also taken this approach with recent Nobel prize winners (The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah) and classic literature I read so long ago I’ve forgotten it (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte). I read a little and mull it over, read some more.

COVID and the heaviness of the world in the last six years have changed my habits. Being pinned in place away from my usual activities heightened my need for escape. The Pleasing Hour by Lily King and Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley took me away when I couldn’t travel.

Often my concentration has been undermined in COVID-times, so I alternated literary fiction with mysteries/thrillers (State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny) or lighter stories (This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith, The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood).

A more recent phenomenon also supports my changed reading habits. Some nights I’m inexplicably sleepless for an hour or more. Then having several books to choose from helps.

Now I’m unapologetic and unfussed about reading several books at once: (Hell of a Book by Jason Mott, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty, Emma by Jane Austen). 

How do you approach reading?

15 thoughts on “Three Books at Once

  1. I used to read one book from start to finish before starting a new one. Now I have several going at one time…usually a nonfiction book and a literary novel that I’m reading + a lighter novel or mystery that I’m listening to. While I do sometimes read actual books, I do appreciate the fact that Overdrive/Kindle makes it easy to enlarge the type and adjust the lighting so I can read in bed and pretty much anywhere else.

  2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my all-time favorite novels. I loved it as a teen, and I still love it. I often read more than one book at once. I thought it was because of my ADD and how I always have to have more than one thing going on at once. I hear you on quitting a book. I quit the first Harry Potter, but when I was forced back into it by my students, I liked it. It just gets off to a slow start IMO. And I quit Olive Kitteridge. I know it’s acclaimed. But I just couldn’t stumble through it.

  3. I prefer one book at a time, but sometimes I do read more than one, for the reasons you listed. Sometimes a book is too badly written, or heavy to be read quickly, and find alternating it with a book I really enjoy helps. But aside from my book club, I rarely read books that I don’t like anymore!

  4. There are so many books that interest me that I order from the library and if popular, may take weeks or months to come available. Sometimes several come in at once and that is probably why I’ve started reading multiple books at once. I love fiction for carrying me away (books are magic carpets don’t you think?), so I have to have at least one on my table, but there are many non-fiction books these days that I want to learn from. Three going at once is about the limit… it gets too complicated beyond that!

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