Reading several books at once

I don’t mean simultaneously reading several books, maybe two at a time, one with each eye. That would be awesome in some ways, as I’d get to read a lot more, but I can also imagine it would just melt my brain. But, quite obviously, I mean having several different books on the go at once. I’ve always done it, but a conversation I had with someone the other day surprised me. They were astounded that I could do such a thing, their reasoning being that they couldn’t imagine remembering two or more different stories at once.

game of thronesI don’t get that. I’m currently reading George R R Martin’s A Game Of Thrones in paperback. I mentioned before how I’d been putting off reading the series even though I had it because I was waiting for it to be finished. However, I’m reading it now before the HBO TV series starts, as I want to read before I watch. I’m also reading Peter Watts’ Blindsight on my iPhone. Peter makes all his books available as free ebooks on his website, so I converted Blindsight to epub and I’m reading that. I’m also reading a non-fiction book, Mysterious Cornwall, by Rupert Matthews. I picked that up in hardcover on my recent trip to the UK and it’s all about the various magical myths and legends of the West Country. Which, incidentally, are uniformly awesome. Great fodder for the imagination that I’ll be co-opting into my own writing here and there, I’m sure.

I don’t have any trouble following these different books. Game Of Thrones is my current main read. When I sit down to read, that’s the book I pick up. But I don’t usually carry books around any more. When I’m out and about I’ll read Blindsight, because it’s right there on my phone and very handy to read anywhere. Sometimes I’ll be at home and the urge to read one or the other will hit me, so I’ll read whichever one I find myself in the mood for.

If I’m in the mood to read, but not either of those two, I’ll pick up Mysterious Cornwall. Or if I have ten minutes to kill, I’ll read a quick chapter from it as it’s easier to read in bite-sized time gaps, being a book about stuff rather than a long story. It’s always better, for me anyway, to read novels in bigger chunks.

Then again, I’ll read three pages of a novel if I have five minutes spare and the story has me gripped. I used to walk to school reading a book, which is probably something that helped me develop the incredible peripheral vision skills I’ve since used successfully in martial arts. Books rule in so many ways.

mysterious cornwallAs well as these three books I’m reading, I’m also reading the latest couple of issues of Aurealis magazine and a couple of anthologies I picked up at Worldcon. I get the urge to read a short story and pick one of those up and enjoy a quick short yarn. None of these things overlap each other or strike me as difficult and this is where the conversation I mentioned at the start of this post surprised me.

We watch TV shows mixed up all the time. You might watch Battlestar Galactica on a Monday night, Deadwood on a Tuesday and Fringe on a Wednesday. You don’t get to the following Monday and complain that you can’t remember what was happening in BSG because you watched Deadwood and it messed up your memory. For me, books are the same. Game Of Thrones and Blindsight are two very different stories. One does nothing to interrupt the other. Nor do the short stories or non-fiction I read interfere with either novel I currently have on the go.

Sometimes, when a book really gets under my skin, as many good books do, I’ll forsake all other reading and just voraciously consume that one novel. That’s always an indicator to me of a really good book. But even then, with one book making me put aside all other stuff and read it single-mindedly, if I’m out without that book and have time to read, I’ll pull out my iPhone and read some of an ebook I’m currently into.

Truth is, I’m just addicted to reading. Which is a pretty healthy vice, really.

So what about you? Do you read lots of stuff at once or are you novel-monogamous? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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16 thoughts on “Reading several books at once

  1. Ditto on pretty much everything you just said. Except for the martial arts stuff: I can certainly coordinate reading several books at once (and can’t imagine not doing so, really), but can’t get my arms and legs to chop and kick simultaneously.

  2. I write several at once and occasionally read more than one at a time but I prefer not to. I want to get lost completely in some great writing without the distractions.

  3. I like to read a solid novel and break it up with short stories. I find as long as they are written in different styles it can be nice to change. I just finished reading American Gods and have been reading some HP Lovecraft stories in between which was nice. I think my attention span is too limited to give 2 novels the attention they deserve 🙂

  4. I only ever read one book at a time – simply because I don’t put it down until I’m finished. Which I why I try very hard not to start a book on a worknight – trying to be productive the next day on 3-4 hours sleep just doesn’t work very well.

    I would agree with Jodi – and if a book isn’t engrossing enough to keep my attention focused, instead of putting it aside to read other things, then I should probably just give up on that particular book. Life is way too short to spend my reading time on less-than-compelling fiction.

  5. I’m most definitely NOT novel monogamous. Some books I’ll read a few chapters a year as other books grab me by the throat and demanded to be read in just a couple of weeks or even over a weekend.

    In addition I read comics as well, a relatively large amount every month.

  6. Jodi – I only write one novel length thing at a time, but I work on short stories while working on a novel. But writing and reading are very different pursuits!

    al – attention span is always an issue!

    Blaque – I didn’t even mention all the comics I constantly read as well. That’s worth bearing in mind as I’m usually reading several different comic series at once.

  7. illegiblescribble – sorry, missed you comment! I don’t think it’s a case of whether or not it’s good enough. I can be reading two novels, both of which have me absolutely hooked, but I’ll be in the mood for one or the other at different times. Every once in a while a book will get me so completely that I’ll read it to the exclusion of all else, but that doesn’t make other books, that don’t do that, not worth reading.

  8. I have been a reader my whole life. I inherited the passion from my mother. I have never read more than one book at once. I’ve never even contemplated the idea, until now. I understand the point you make about watching multiple shows and not getting the characters or storylines confused, but we do this with our eyes and ears. Reading is only done with our eyes and the information does not always sink into the brain as easily as it does when watching and hearing tv shows.

    In saying that, I will experiment and try reading two books at once, which will be different genres and let you know how I go. 🙂

  9. I’m sure that it’s entirely possible for you and other people to be able to read more than one book at a time, and they can all be good books, and you can keep the plot in each, enjoy them, and finish them.

    I’m just saying that my consumption of a book, once I start it, is SO single-minded, that if I’m actually able to pick up and start a new book before finishing the first one, it says some very telling things about that first book.

    I VERY rarely start a book, get 1/3 of the way through, and toss it aside. But it does happen (as it did with one of the Hugo nominees this year).

  10. absolutely. If I only had the time to read more for recreation… I started a (recreational) non fiction book a while back, have a novel I’ve been trying to find time for (with periodic success) for about 6 months, have read several different non fiction books in the mean time and am generally reading several textbooks. Generally if I’m reading a novel I will read it on it’s own, but if it’s quite big (like, say, the game of thrones books) I can read several other ones in the same time span (generally not more than two novels at the same time, but short stories or non fiction, sure) without any noticeable loss of coherence. if it’s been some time between openings of a book, it can take a page or two to get back into it, but that’s to do with the time elapsed, and not related to whatever else I’ve read in the interim.

  11. Time is the biggest issue for me as well. But it’s also mood driven. Sometimes I want to read, just not one particular book or other.

  12. Mostly you could describe me as a reading tart. Usually have several things on the go at once, between novels, non-ficton, magazines and a few comics/graphic novels. I’ve never had a problem doing this and keeping track of individual story lines, characters etc. However sometimes a story does demand my undivided attention and I become temporarily monogamous. An example being I read all three novels of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant in quick succession without straying to another tale. Having discovered it then had to wait for publishing dates of later books.

    The Worst part about finishing a good tale is that it ends and you can go into withdrawal. I thinks this explains why I sometimes go to another story, just to delay the end.

  13. Yes, you’re a book slut. Just like me.

    Although I can’t put off the ending of a good book. I need to know what happened. Once I’m close to the end of a book it tends to take priority over everything else!

  14. if the book is voluminous then i always take up short stories or any interesting tales….it does not interfere anything and following this , it will always keep me away from getting bored…
    Right now i am reading ‘the lost symbol’ by dan brown…the book is really amazing and keep me into its grip while reading…but continuously reading it makes me to suffer boredom…therefore just make my flow i always take a break by taking up another books which hardly 15 or 2o chapters… 🙂

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