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How Do You Read Two Books At Once?

I don’t know how you guys do it. A lot of you are able to juggle two, three, four books at a time–somehow managing to follow the story on each and not lose focus.

I already knew this fact, but this year is proving it even more: I have a hard time reading more than one book at a time. This year, 2012, is my year of “A Dance.” While I’m reading through the regular novels on the Time list, I’m also reading one book a month from A Dance To The Music Of Time–the Anthony Powell classic that was included as ONE novel on the List.

At 12 total books, that’s one book a month from “A Dance,” in addition to the other novels. So throughout 2012, I’ll always be reading two books at a time.

I’m too ADD for this. I’m an awful multi-tasker. I can only focus on one thing at a time. Just ask my wife how many accidents we’ve almost had because I’m driving along and suddenly, “Oh, look a pretty bird!”

“Dance” is definitely bearing the brunt of my lack of focus and horrible memory. I’m mostly reading it on weekends, so I usually go 6-7 days in between reading sessions with this book. And since it’s not a high-energy read, I’m struggling through it.

At this point, I’ve been unable to find a rhythm between “Dance” and these other books (pun intended. always intended.).

That said, Book 3 of A Dance To The Music of Time (The Acceptance World) is definitely more interesting than book 2 (Book 1 and Book 2 reviews here and here).

The main characters are approaching 30. Jenkins, the narrator, is a writer and art dealer. Stringham is divorced and alcoholic. Templer is divorced but somewhat stable. Widmerpool is as awkward as ever but even more power hungry and self-absorbed.

The novel has definitely taken a turn for the better. There’s a little more going on now. So as I begin the Second Movement, books 4-6, I hope that trend continues.

But back to the original discussion: So you guys that read multiple books at a time, how do you do it? What’s your advice for those of use who are scatter-brained?

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43 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jillian ♣ #

    I think I’m reading about twenty at a time — most spread out over the year. I just like to read slowly and scatter my attention all over the place. I thought that meant I had ADD? I can’t stand to just read one book. I get all restless and feel trapped. I have to be able to try everything or I lose focus and won’t read anything.

    I don’t know how to offer advice. I think it’s just a personality difference. I’m guessing you are left-brained? Left-brainers (as I understand it) are very focused on one task at a time, in order. This is probably why you dislike stream-of-consciousness books, while I LOVE them — because flitting all over and keeping track of several things at once just works for my brain. (And also means I never actually finish anything. But I am EXCELLENT at starting!) 🙂

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • 20 at time? That’s amazing! But you’re doing that classic challenge, right?

      I definitely think you’re right about that left brain thing. That’s another reason I work better from lists, like this one.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
      • Jillian ♣ #

        Yep, I’m doing the classics challenge. I’ve been reading War & Peace for a year and a half. 600 pages to go! 😛

        Like

        March 30, 2012
  2. I’m generally reading more than one book at a time. One thing I do is I have books for different moments of the day. There’s my commute book, and then there’s my bed book (which I read before bed). I started doing this for the very simple reason that when I was reading one book at a time, I was always leaving it on the nightstand when I wanted it on the commute, or having to get out of bed to retrieve it and so on. The books are usually different enough from each other that I don’t confuse them. (I was also trained for this as an English major. You’re always in the middle of two or three books, reading this one, writing about that one.)

    Also, sometimes when I’m reading something that I know I want to finish, but which is a slog, I will take a break from it and read something short to reinvigorate myself.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • This makes a lot of sense, Erin. I guess I do that too then. I have one for work or while waiting in the car and another for bedtime.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
    • That is a good way to separate them. Good advice.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  3. I do the same thing as Erin. Read one book at work and on the public transport and another book when I’m at home. It makes it easier to separate the stories if you are reading them at different times of the day. 🙂

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  4. I’ve tried this I just can’t. So I’m curious to know how they do it too. My Aunt, however, has books everywhere and manages to remember whats going on in each. Kudos to those of you who can do that!

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  5. carolee888 #

    The trick is to make sure that the books are very different. I just finished two at time, a historical fiction and a graphic novel. If they are too similiar, I get mixed up. I can do three at a time but I don’t like it. I did four one time but it drove me crazy (one was an audio book). Do whatever works best for you.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • I can see that working. I’ve had success with reading a nonfiction and a fiction book at the same time, though I don’t do it that often.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  6. I agree with Jillian; I think it’s based on personality. Some people can do this, others can’t. I read several books at a time, my mother can’t. And yet she can read with the TV on, which is impossible for me. Are you able to read a newspaper, though, while reading a book? I’d think that would require similar mind functions. I can’t really say how I read several books at once. When I pick up a book, I’m immediately back in the image-world of that book. Pick up another, and I’m in its mental world. I’m not sure there’s an answer to “how”, since it’s not a conscious process.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  7. I agree that the trick is to make them different and to read them in particular times and places. I have my morning book and my bedtime book, and I make sure they aren’t too similar. Usually my morning book is more “popular” and my evening book is more literary or nonfiction. I can read the popular fiction in the bits and pieces my morning often demands (it’s usually easy to jump in and out with little damage), and can read for longer and more relaxed stretches at bedtime.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  8. alainarg #

    Just make sure they aren’t two Austen books! I did that once in my undergrad course of study, and it ended horribly. I have to reiterate, just make sure they aren’t extremely similar works. I regularly read two or three books at once with minimal issues when I follow this rule.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  9. Good question. I’m wondering if you’re looking for the actual neuro-processes explanation, which I wouldn’t know the answer to.

    I used to read only one book a time for many years as well, until about six years ago when I became a writer and fell in love literature, reading literary books, essays, short stories and of course, genre fiction and non-fiction. There was no way I could only read one book a time when my tastes varied so much. It would be self-inflicted torture to be reading a fantasy novel when I needed a break and wanted to be immersed in a world of magic, and then have to wait till I finished it (usually trilogies…) before I could read Jonathan Franzen’s latest book! It just wouldn’t do. So I started reading what I wanted to read when I wanted to read it. Now, at any given time, I’m reading at least six books and three of them intensely over different genres and styles.

    I suppose it boils down to this:
    – read the books you want to read (leave the book you’re not enjoying, why bother?)
    – read books that suit your various moods and interests (if thrillers allow you to escape your daily strife when tired, then read that to relax/ if reading non-fiction appeals to you in the morning, then do so)
    – it helps to read different books that are not similar in genre or style, and not by the same author (at least for me)

    Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with reading one book a time, many people I know do so and are happy. So the question to aks yourself is: why do you want to read more than one book a time?

    Hope this helps.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • Well, it would make getting through this list a little easier. Plus, there’s the matter of this 12 volume book, which would basically kill this blog if I tried to read it all at the same time, so I have to read it along with other books. Good thoughts.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  10. There’s no system – you just grab the book that’s nearest, or what’s on the kindle, or what you’re reading in bed, or with your kids (a brilliant way as they get older to read classics like Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels (tho it is super dull), Heidi etc etc. It is quite clear that you are reading to a very high level – hence all the reviews with characters named and spelt right. I read to enjoy, and rarely remember much about the story, although occ review on amazon. If I love the book I might read it again, but mostly because I forget what I’ve read (approx 4-6 books a month) I write a list of what I’ve read. So I know I’ve usually got more than one on the go, but i won’t nec be able to tell you their names. That’s what makes your blog so interesting – another stab at knowing a classic book’s plot. Thank you. Nicola http://aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • I tend to forget too, so this blog’s been a nice help for that. And thanks for the compliments!

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  11. I used to have the time to get through a book every week or two – now I don’t have the time to have such a voracious appetite, I just read multiple books at the same time and savour them over a much longer period (I have been ‘reading’ The Iliad for about a year.

    I think I have, at most, read around 10 books at the same time. To friends that can’t understand how you do that, I just explain that it is the same as watching all of the different programmes they watch in TV. All of a sudden they don’t think it is such an unusual approach to reading,

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • Hey Mark! Haven’t seen you in a while! Good points about the TV programs. Although, to be honest, I can only keep up with a few TV programs at a time, too. I guess my brain is just wired differently.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  12. alainarg #

    Reblogged this on Lit Geek.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  13. I used to be just like you. I NEVER read more than one book at a time, but now that I’m reading each night with my daughter, reading to prep for my classes, and reading for pleasure, that has all gone out the door. I am trying to think of it in terms of television shows. I watch more than one of those at a time, so why not books?

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • Hadn’t thought about my son’s books. I guess I DO read more than one book at a time.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  14. I know just what you mean. When I was in college I was getting so confused that I went to the Dean of Students and recommended that they reduce the requirement to only one course at a time. After all, the French language was confusing enough but when you add Contemporary Poetry, the Nineteenth Century Novel in England, Classical Greek Drama and a seminar on John Milton, your head begins to spin.

    Incidentally, the Dean was sympathetic to my suggestion but offered that taking one course at a time would extend the typical college education to more than forty years and result in a cost to the student of hundreds of dollars (yes, the UC used to be free until the State of California was blessed with the governorship of Ronald Reagan).

    So I fluffed up the plastic on my Eames chair and meditated to help me overcome the punishment of multiple course subjects. I also gave up girls, sex, parties, and beer to give me eight or ten additional hours in the day for reading and studying.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • Eight to ten hours for reading and studying? Man, in college I think I was good for an hour or two a day. Well done.

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  15. Melissa @ Swamp of Boredom #

    I have started reading more than one book at a time mainly because there are so many books and so little time. I don’t typically read two fiction books at the same time (if I do I make sure they are very different), but will read a non-fiction along with fiction. That way it is easy to keep them separate! Sometimes, of course, I put books that I’m not feeling aside for a while and return but I don’t consider that active reading.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  16. I also have different books for different times of the day or different places. Especially if I’m reading novels that are essentially research for writing a novel set in a particular period. It’s always much better to read what was written at the time rather than a reflection on an era. So my bedtime read will typically be the more relaxed read. Even then I might have a couple of books on the go for bedtime reading. Especially if I’m tired it is hard to keep up. So I’m not rigid & just go with what I feel like. The last thing as book lovers we want to do is to end up making reading a chore.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  17. I am an english major so i usually have atleast 2 books to read for school, sometimes more, and then a book for myself. I guess alot of the time i make sure they are different enough that i can differentiate between them. In a lit class im reading a play, i have literature of the holocaust so i don’t read holocaust books right now and im reading stephen king’s new book which is about time travel. Just keep them to things that are too different to mix up

    Like

    March 30, 2012
    • Back in my English major days, I guess I did a better job at it. But that was so long ago, I guess forgot how!

      Like

      March 30, 2012
  18. yearningtoread #

    I typically read three or four at a time…all different. Like, right now I’m reading Anna Karenina (a classic), Mockingjay (a modern book), ArchEnemy (an audiobook), Athena the Brain (a book I’m reading to my younger sister)….etc. It breaks it up and I can read different things depending on the mood. At the moment, however, I’ve stopped reading everything else so I can finish Mockingjay, which is commanding alllll my attention. A lot of the time, actually, that happens to me. I guess it just depends on the book and the season of life you’re in.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  19. I’m very much a one-novel-at-a-time reader (one every week or two) but I don’t mind having several non-fiction books on the go. I commit myself to experience at the time, but forget it soon after.

    Like

    March 30, 2012
  20. I like to read two different genres of books. One easy read to seperate the difficult read that tends to be frustrating at times. i also try to read the easy one in the morning for about 15 minutes before I get out of bed so I can read the tougher read at night. Tougher can mean more thinking, intense etc. My easy reads tend to be books like The Hunger Games.I read American Gods and had to read something light because that book was hard and intense, but amazing. Hope that helps 🙂

    Like

    March 31, 2012
  21. It is immaterial to me how many books one reads at a time.What is far more important to me is how much I can remember what I have read..

    Like

    March 31, 2012
  22. I tend to have more than one book on the go when I’m travelling for work. Somehow certain books don’t work so well for me on long flights – I find it hard to concentrate in amongst the bing bong messages from the flight deck and the movement up and down the aisles. Hence when I take a trip I have minimum of two books with me and my Kindle, just in case….

    Like

    March 31, 2012
  23. When I read multiple books at a time (usually 2, right now 3) they have NOTHING to do with each other. I’m not going to get confused between Advanced Marathoning and Count of Monte Cristo. Wait, did Dantes recommend you do your long runs at or below marathon pace?

    Like

    March 31, 2012
  24. I feel for you trying to keep Dance to Music straight while reading other books. Although I typically read several at a time, I put everything aside and made a mad dash through the Dance series. I knew I would forget everything otherwise. I also bought a reader’s guide, “Invitation to the Dance” by Hillary Spurling to help keep characters, locations, events and plot straight.

    I did tire of the series in the middle of book 11. Not sure if the problem was my endurance or that book.

    Like

    March 31, 2012
  25. I actually read up to a dozen books at the same time: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/the-joy-of-reading-many-books-at-the-same-time/ – I don’t confused by the plots because only some of them are fiction, most of them are for my studies. When I read several novels at the same time, I pick different genres and different languages (I read in English and German) and thus won’t get confused.

    Like

    April 2, 2012
  26. This has been covered: but I have an evening book and a morning book. Works wonderfully and I decide which is which based on their nature.

    If I try to do more than three books, the third being one I am sometimes using to dip into at odd times, I fall apart.

    Like

    April 2, 2012
  27. Best to read books at the same time that are on different subjects. Learned this as a teenager when I found myself reading six of my fathers westerns at the same time. Ruined the plots, such as they were. Bookmarks help. As for a massive array of characters? When faced with a telephone book, best stick with it till the end, deferring all others. Good luck with this and thanks for the blog.

    Like

    April 3, 2012
  28. Thx for that very Nice Thread! I really enjoyed it 🙂 I like it very much. They are for fires that involve combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, potassium and sodium. These types of extinguishers also have no numerical rating, nor are they given a multi-purpose rating – they are designed for class D fires only.

    Like

    April 19, 2012
  29. For the most part, I enjoy juggling two or more books at once. I’ll read fiction, non-fiction, humor, etc. just to spice things up. I hate being bored with one book and then stuck with that book until I finish it. Variety helps keep tedium at bay, because even though I love to read I do get bored with some books. If I’m not feeling this book, I’ll pop over to another. It’s fun for me and keeps my memory very active. Although I’m pretty sure you’d have to be a multi-tasker to do this! If you’re more comfortable focusing on one thing at a time, this might present concentration issues and you might feel like you’re missing something. Of course I’ll be long gone before I have read all the books on my list, and I feel like I’m knocking out a bunch of titles quickly this way.

    Like

    April 24, 2012
  30. Reblogged this on bookgirl1987thoughts.

    Like

    April 24, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. What I’ve Been Reading: March 31 | amandatheatheist
  2. Book #51: A Dance To The Music Of Time | 101 Books

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