Confession: I read more than one book at a time

I am not always good at focusing. I do best when I have a deadline, preferably one where someone is waiting for me to do something for them. I’ve always loved reading and although its a solitary pastime it’s something I’ve been able to sustain for the majority of my life. As for starting and finishing books (instead of just buying them and hoarding them), being the facilitator of a book club has been helpful because it’s hard to conduct a conversation when you don’t know what the book is about.

When I am talking to someone about book club, they almost always ask me what book I am reading. My answer is to tell them what the book club choice is, but that isn’t always what I’m reading. Sometimes I’m not reading anything, but more often than not I’ve started multiple books and finished none of them. How can you read more than one book at a time you ask? Well ladies and gentlemen, the answer is that you can’t (or at least I can’t). There is no meaningful way that you can comprehend and maintain the story the way you could when you focus on just one book at a time.

Before the dawn of the ebook, I usually had just one book with me and that would be ‘my book’, the book I’m reading. Sometimes I would find myself somewhere with no book, and I’d start one or find a magazine or something, as being caught without reading material is a slow torture I must avoid. (Aside: I was at a crap college party once and was hanging out in one of the bedrooms waiting for my friend to stop flirting with this guy so we could leave. I found a copy of Silence of the Lambs and read the first chapter. After a while the guy rejected her, we left and I had to leave the book behind. Upon reflection, should have taken the book and left her behind as she proved to be a self-centred cow later on in life. Anyway…) Now with the ebook/Kindle, I think my bad habit has worsened. Not only do I have multiple books on my devices that I’ve started and not finished, sometimes they stay that way for months and months (years?) and I never come back to them. Should I be doing this? Should I force myself to finish one book before I read another?

I’ve read a couple of online articles (this one is good, as is this one) about how to read more books (stay off social media, make sure you have your books on your device at all times, give up on a book that doesn’t grab you, etc) and I still am a bit fractured. I’ve done some thinking about why this might be.

  1. The requirement to read a book club choice every month (as I have done for over 10 years now) can be a drag, especially if I’m not in the mood to read it. Because I know the group will need me to lead the conversation my failure to finish a book club book weighs on me greatly. Sometimes I just want to read some crappy throw away book that I won’t have to discuss with anyone and I try to use that as an incentive to read the book club book first. It doesn’t always work and I feel guilty for having read neither the book club choice nor my choice.
  2. A lot of the books I’m interested in can never be book club choices. I don’t think I could get a group of people to read Alan Ginsburg’s poetry or The White Goddess or a book about machine learning. If I followed the steps on how to read more books I could manage both book club books and my choices, and I am getting better but there is still room for improvement.
  3. I do spend too much time on Instagram and the internet. I gave up on Twitter and Facebook as I was just a lurker anyway and didn’t really have anything to say. I did tweet a series of haikus which I should publish here somewhere as I thought they were good (Aside: I resigned from my last job via haiku, which I thought was a stroke of genius. I was so bored at that job that I had time to write seven haikus about how I was leaving; what does that tell you?)
  4. When I’m feeling low, I don’t always want to read. Reading takes time and focus and when I feel dragged down by work, family, relationships, etc I just can’t find the presence of mind to read (this is where the Instagram comes in).
  5. I don’t always formally ‘give up’ on a book when my interest flags. This leaves a lot of half-finished books on my devices. I created a shelf on goodreads called ‘gave_up‘ and I have moved some books there, although I do feel guilty doing it for some of them. Sometimes I set the books I’m struggling with back to ‘want to read’ and move them back onto the general shelf. Maybe I’ll read them, maybe I won’t (optimism reigns supreme).

So what to do about this non-problem? As I write this I have finished only 35% of my book club book which I’m meant to discuss in seven hours (spoiler: I’ll have to fake it). Do I really want to read more books and get further inside my head when really I need a break from me? I’ve been somewhat isolated at work for over a year, both in my old job and my new one. I do see my friends and my relationship is good but I’m not so great. Would reading help? Or should I shelve the thing that’s got me through so many years, the books that have been my friends to fall back on? It feels like being more solitary is a bad idea, especially now when I need more connections to get out of my work rut.

I think the first step is to reduce the multiple concurrent reads. I will supplement the reading with something else that’s not a solitary pursuit and see if that balances things out. Stay tuned for progress updates.

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