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?

Why We Read The Books We Do

f306a4206f3db95e9d87a8b4aaf37eb6[1]“Guess what I’m reading,” 12-year old Crystel says.

First, I try the vanilla genres, “Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, science fiction, fantasy?”

She shakes her head no every time.

What else is there?

“Dark Romance,” she says. Her eyes light up.

Oh, my, I think. “Books let you read anything you want,” I say, thinking of Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James and wondering what she IS reading.

I have a 1 ½ hour round trip drive to work thus my book reading has become books on tapes. Jody noticed Fifty Shades in the car. She raised her eyebrows.

“Don’t push Play when the kids are in the car,” I said.

Fifty Shades ended up too spicy. I returned the trilogy to the library. How much flavoring can one take? Jody’s happy if I hold her hand.

12-year old Antonio reads Pokémon from back cover to front. “I like reading different stories about Red the Trainer,” he said.

Recently, he’s been downloading the series onto his IPod to read.

I’ve not read a single page of Pokémon. I don’t enjoy graphic novels. It reminds me of the funnies. In my family of 14, the funnies were prime reading material on Sunday mornings. I avoided any tussling by turning my back on the colorful newspaper that would be shredded by noon.

I don’t read fantasy or science fiction either. Give me the real stuff. Memoir, non-fiction, and fiction based on truth.

One evening, Antonio held up a thick book. “Look what I’m reading,” he said.

The heftiness of the book surprised me. What could hold his interest that long?

He laughed. “It has lots of pictures in it.” He had found Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick in his school library. Not that he went to the libary on his own volition. He needed a book for reading prep.

“Ta dah!” I’m sure he exclaimed after perusing the pages.

I asked if the illustrations reminded him of his own pencil drawings. “Nope,” he said. There goes that elevated thought.

After finishing Wonderstruck he found The Invention of Hugo Cabret by the same author.

Antonio doesn’t know (or care) that the book won the 2008 Caledcott Medal, the first novel to do so.

With 284 pictures within the book’s 526 pages, the book depends as much on its pictures as it does on the words.

Selznick himself has described the book as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.”

“Guess what page I’m on?” Crystel says in the car, on the couch, in her bedroom, as she makes her way through her dark romance.

“How did you find this book?” I asked her.

“When I was on Utube I clicked a thing on Ellen and Twilight.”

“I learned enough about the characters that when I went to our school library and saw the series, I picked it up. They didn’t have the first book, Twilight but they had New Moon. I read a little from the middle and there were no words that I didn’t know. And this cat is so cute. I’m reading Eclipse now.”

The four Twilight books have consecutively set records as the biggest selling novels for children.

Even so, I’m not interested in reading the series. It’s not my genre.

Is the lesson here that parents can model reading but not the genre?

Daylight Saving Time

When the clock’s sleight of hand

tricks reality

something stronger than habit


relearning the day’s hours.

This recalcitrant instinct

like a knot in pine that will not sand smooth


I still struggle with Daylight Saving Time as much as I did when I wrote that poem years ago. Daylight Saving Time makes sense at a practical level—take advantage of daylight to work more, play more, and use energy resources more efficiently. But there is something inherently wrong about manipulating the clock every spring and fall.

I’m not a back-to-nature zealot (e.g. if only humans hadn’t interfered with the natural world, life would be better). And I have no problem recording TV shows to watch later. But like it or not, humans are basically animals. Our bodies are attuned to nature and humans, as well as plants and even bacteria, are ruled by circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the logic behind our sleeping and eating patterns. Daylight cues the nerve cells in our brain (a.k.a. the biological clock), which regulate our sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, hormone release, and more.

So mammal that I am, as the days grow shorter, I’ve been craving more sleep, wanting hearty stews and soups, and feeling satisfied that my nest is prepared for winter. I’ve gotten used to getting up in the dark, so it’s unsettling to wake up when the sky is lightening up—I’m late! No, it’s OK, calm down. Plus my brain is full of complicated, emotional dreams (well, it probably always was full of busy dreams, but now I have to know about it). So I wake up disoriented and vaguely upset.

The shift to early darkness is just as perturbing. Why is it dark when I walk to my car after work? I should be home by now. Something isn’t right. This confusion and unease goes on for weeks.

We can, by an act of will declare that it’s Daylight Saving Time and disregard what our bodies need, but we’ll pay for it for days, and sometimes, weeks. Why? Because of a basic arrogance that says we can manipulate or conquer the natural world.

But when I get up tomorrow in gray dawn and drive home from work in full dark, I’ll be still be jangled and wondering if Daylight Saving Time is worth it.

Today, I have a second reason why my sleep was disturbed—I stayed up too late watching the election returns. Thank you to the people of Minnesota for helping re-elect Obama and for defeating the voter ID and gay marriage ban amendments! Thanks also to the Toledoans who renewed the library levy! It’s a good day in America.

Love Your Public Library

Growing up, my Dad, my sister, and I visited the Sanger library in west Toledo every week. In all my memories, the library is sunny and bright, and I was eager to discover what wonderful stories might be waiting for me. When the pickings were slim, I was actively disappointed, but checked out whatever books I could find. Being without books to read was worse than reading so-so books. To this day, I have stacks of books by my bed and downloaded onto my iPad. If I’m traveling, I need at least three books available to feed my reading addiction and keep my no-book anxieties at bay.

The three of us loved to read and each of us checked out four books (the maximum allowed). In second and third grade, I read through a shelf of orange-bound biographies and met Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Lucretia Mott, and others. I also LOVED Nancy Drew mysteries and tore through them. Later, I learned that Toledoan  Mildred Benson (whose pen name was Carolyn Keene), wrote many of the stories in that series.

By the time I was in fourth grade, I had read all of the children’s chapter books, so Dad arranged with the librarian to let me read whatever I wanted in the adult section. Today, when book banning is rampant in schools, this seems like a surprising decision, but Dad wasn’t worried about what I might find. He once told me that he attempted to read all of the library’s books (he got from the A’s through the G’s), so he understood my need to read. In fourth grade, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca was one of my favorites, and I went on to read all of the DuMaurier books at the library.

At home, our bookshelves may have seemed oddly empty. Although Dad loved reading, he didn’t need to own the books, and so my sister and I learned we didn’t either. As a practical matter, we couldn’t possibly find space for all the books we read. Dad’s philosophy is still ingrained in me. Over the years, I’ve borrowed most of what I wanted to read from the public library, and I’ve bought books as a special treat or if the library didn’t carry what I wanted. I still feel that way, but now I buy books I love in order to support living authors. However, typically I buy them after I’ve read the library’s copy. Weird, I know, but I can’t own everything I’ve read or plan to read.

Today, my relationship with the library is different. I don’t visit in person as often as I used to. Instead, I download ebooks from the library, because I love reading on my iPad (so many books in one lightweight place!). But I am as firmly committed to public libraries as ever. For me, they represent a world of stories and knowledge: garden books about shade plants, novels about China during the Mao’s Cultural Revolution, financial reports of companies I want to invest in, travel guides about small Irish towns. For other people, they’re a source for free computer and Internet access for research papers, Facebook, and job searches.

Today, the Dakota County Library in Minnesota is my home library. While their funding is secure for this year, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library is facing a 50 percent budget cut if the local levy doesn’t pass this fall. I hope my Toledo friends and family will vote for the levy renewal, so this wonderful resource doesn’t become a memory!