How To Read Multiple Books At A Time

Every time I walk through the living room, I see a stack of books marked at various stages with bookmarks made from my old business cards. I look longingly at this stack, as even though I reclaimed my wasted time and have made more time to read, I wish I were doing so right now. Some of you I’m sure wish you were doing the same, and some of you are right now thinking that this is crazy talk, this reading a big stack of books at once. In some part, I do agree that perhaps the current stack of 5 (plus 2 by my bed and 2 in my office) may be out of control, but I have been enjoying it immensely.

First the why. It’s simple. I read a lot and about a variety of things. Some days I am not in the mood for particular books or subjects. Some days I am wanting to read about people or events and some days about more abstract concepts. Then there are the books themselves, some books, like the mega Infinite Jest, or the big and heavy political and historical books that I have been starting to enjoy, are intense and my brain is not always feeling up to the task of taking in so much information. Some days the last thing I want to read are biographies, and some days, that’s all I want to read. If you think about it, the concept is rather logical and very similar to how we do many things, like how our kitchens work. You don’t always want to eat the same food, so you buy a variety and eat a little of each thing throughout the week. The milk is, for the most part, not consumed all at once, neither are the carrots.

Now the how. Books of the fiction and literature genres are known attention grabbers. They draw you in and wrap you in their web of words and you are entranced as they weave their stories. I could not handle reading a large stack of fiction at once, I’d perhaps lose sight of plots and confuse characters if I switched too often. So I typically save the more story like aspect of fiction for the end of night, when I’m trying to check out, get away from screens and clear my head or fill it with something else before bed. More often than not, I keep it to only one at a time by the bed, but there are exceptions. Usually it’s due to something I ordered showing up and that I can’t wait to dive into, so I put whatever I was reading aside and will come back to it. That is the exact scenario that led to the current two by the bed.

The books in my office are usually business books that I need to focus on and perhaps take notes while reading. Usually these are on a hyper specific topic, like productivity, SEO or marketing. I pick these up when I have time to get in a few chapters and can give them some attention. I’m this way with blogs and podcasts too. I have them in their ques and when I have a chance, I catch up. These are all great ways to spark the brain, so as long as one of them is being done at some point each day, I’m happy. The books I read in my office can take months to finish for this reason, so if it’s something I want to finish reading in a more timely manner, the moves either to the living room, or I assign myself reading time with a notebook at the dining room table.

Now for the stack in the living room. I usually have 3-5 going and there is almost always a memoir style business book (right now it’s Martha Stewart), something about food production or health (often by Michael Pollen), something I need to be focused to read (I’m sure for the next month that will remain Infinite Jest), a history or political history book (I’m reading about the history of New York right now) and then a book or two for book club (because I am in three of them and the books are often new releases and therefore hard cover, which I prefer to be sitting to read). I find that the books I have in the living room are more for picking up whatever interests me when I sit down. Similar to magazines or blogs, I sometimes dig in and read for hours in one book and sometimes I have the attention span of a gnat and go from one to the next and back and forth. Sort of like having a book stack version of your blog reader. Except instead of posts in a blog, you can read a chapter or two from one book and then switch to another. Which is again why I mainly do this with non fiction, memoirs and short stories, they are easier to move in out of.

Now because we all love lists, I’ll break it down:

How to Read Multiple Books At A Time

  1. Select a variety of subjects and styles.
  2. Try and keep the fiction to a minimum, choosing mostly from assorted non fiction genres.
  3. Keeping different books in the different places where you read can help you remember things about that book when you’re sitting in the same spot.
  4. Don’t push it. If you’re only feeling one book, go with it. If you can’t stay focused on more than a few pages before you want to switch books, go with it.
  5. If you are stumped for how to come up with that many books to read at once; keep a list in your phone or Amazon with suggestions. Also browse used book stores, goodwill or library book sales as the selection is usually smaller so it’s not as overwhelming often will have you choosing books from sections that you’d never think you’d like. For example, I realized that I was buying a lot of books from library sales that were from the travel section, an area I had never thought to buy books from.

Happy reading!


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