When Did I Become A Multi-Reader (and the Reading Conundrum)?

Once upon a time if someone told me they read more than one book at once I would always be astonished, if I am totally honest a slight wince or sneer might even have been seen to pass like a shadow across my face, they could do it. I could never understand how anyone could keep up with that many books, until now that is…

You see since the start of 2012 I have not completed many novels (not that reading is ever a race but I do have a general reading pace) yet I have read a whole host of short stories and essays.

For example at present I have four books on the go at the moment, though only one of them is a novel, and they are as shown…


Both Dan Rhodes ‘Dont Tell Me The Truth About Love’ and Sarah Hall’s ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ are collections of short stories. I was just reading Sarah’s on and off but then I started reading ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, the only novel in the mix, and something about the settings was a little too similar and yet I wanted some short fiction for random short reading moments on the train (only ten mins to town and ten back) etc and so I picked up Dan Rhodes on a whim as I haven’t read anything by him for ages and I really like his books. Sarah will be being restarted once ‘Bereft’ is finished, yet that may be some time as I am enjoying it so much I am savouring it and waiting for the mystery at its heart to unfold slowly. Savouring is also the reason why Marieke Hardy and her memoir essays ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ are still only midway through completion. I love them so much I am only reading one or two a week.

Actually with the last two it feels like an odd reading conundrum, should I just go for it or simply take as long as I like? As its a year of whimsical reading I am going for the latter, unless suddenly something takes hold. It may make reviews thin on the ground for a while but it’s really enjoyable reading at the moment. Who would have thought I would find multi- reading so enjoyable?

Who else out there multi reads and who definitely doesn’t? Do you ever find yourself at the point of wanting to greedily devour a book in one sitting and spreading out the joy over weeks? Which books have left you in such a reading conundrum?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

58 responses to “When Did I Become A Multi-Reader (and the Reading Conundrum)?

  1. sumayya

    I definitely enjoy mutli-reading, though not when in the grip of a favourite crime writer 🙂 enjoy

  2. Sue N

    I generally have novel on the go, a book of letters or diaries in the bathroom – currently ‘Letters from Six Sisters’ and a book on my bedside table, although I don’t read in bed much – mainly because if I get into it and read for too long I don’t go to sleep.

    The first book I read in one sitting was ‘Brave New World’ in my late 20s. I did it recently with the Jeannette Winterson ‘Why be Happy when you could be Normal.’ I have done all weekend sessions on bigger books – but not for a while!.

    I have a bad habit of ‘speed’ reading novels, particularly if I have lost interest in them (need to know what happens) but some writers need to be savoured and its usually clear from the first couple of pages which those are. Jeannette Winterson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dorothy L Sayes come to mind – like eating really expensive, high end dark chocolate a square at a time savouring every taste sension it gives you

    • I am, as you would possibly guess utterly rubbish at saving chocolate! Books was the same, if I loved it I would rush it! I’m trying out this new relaxed style and really enjoying it.

      ‘Letters by Six Sisters’ is incredible. That book took me about a month on and off and I loved it. Little treats of prose now and then

  3. David

    I’m definitely not a multi-reader, and I admire anyone who can do it. The only time I have two novels on the go is if I’m not enjoying one of them, and since I hate giving up on a book I’ll sneakily start reading something else at the same time. The weird thing is that I get a king of guilt about it – I won’t put the second book out on my bedside table, instead I’ll keep sneaking it off the tbr pile to get my fix. I read ‘Annabel’ like that last year, because at the time I was getting nowhere with Mary Horlock’s ‘The Book of Lies’ (a book I did eventually abandon). And I read probably three novels whilst trying to drag my way through Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’!
    Also, when I do sneakily read two books at once I have to pick books that are as different as possible in setting and style, otherwise the two start mingling in my head which benefits neither.
    This year I will have two books on the go at any one time, but one of them will always be a story collection and somehow in my mind that is allowable, because I have given over a specific window of time (half an hour before breakfast) to read a story, but then I’m a creature of routine and habit.
    As for savouring, I’m not much good at that either! The last book I wanted to last and last was ‘Everything Beautiful Began After’. I tried – I really did – to eke it out, but I’m afraid I gave in to temptation and kept reading. It’s the same with DVD boxsets – I just can’t make a really good series last for weeks, watching one episode every Wednesday night or something – no, I’ll greedily watch two or three episodes a night until it’s all gone.

  4. I would never read more than one book at once, but this year I have. Admittedly this was because I left my book at home and found myself spending an hour in Starbucks… so I popped to Waterstones. This lead to me reading two at a time and I’m about to do it again today.

    Not sure why it suddenly works, I hated the idea before.


  5. willbarrington

    Ach, I’m the same! Used to be strictly one book at a time, but now I never seem to be able to close out everything at once, and start one on its own. This is particularly the case with non-fiction texts, which I’ll often take a short break from – especially in the case of larger undertakings like “The Seven Basic Plots”.


    But it *is* fun to mix non-fiction and fiction, short stories and novels, and even (if you’re lucky) books in different languages. My new rule is “only one novel at a time”. Which leaves plenty of room for short stories, non-fiction, the occasional bit of poetry.

    It seems symptomatic of the split attention we all have now – browsing online while watching TV, tweeting while at a gig. If you’re split between an e-reader and physical books, I imagine that “currently reading” pile gets exponentially taller…

    • Will, we are completely alligned with the ‘only one novel at a time’ aspect of this. For some reason short stories and a novel is absolutely fine, yet two novels just wouldn’t work for me and that goes for a novel and an audiobook. Non fiction, even narrative non fiction, seems to automatically differentiate in my head weirdly.

  6. Heidi

    I try to follow something I read years ago. “Besides my Bible, I always keep three books going that are just for me – a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for.”
    The “stiff book” is something challenging, and the “moderately easy book” is usually auto/biographical. It’s worked for me (and I used to be a one-at-a-time reader).

  7. When I was in school, and it was simply a matter of academic survival to consume 5-7 books at a time, I promised myself that I would never do that once I graduated. Well, I stuck to that for a period of time… but then I lapsed into Multiple Book Syndrome again. I’m currently reading 3. Oh well.

  8. For a very long time I focused on one book at a time, or I felt like I never made any headway. Now I’ll occasionally read more than one book, but it’s generally only by necessity. Right now I’m finishing up Wicked by Gregory Maguire and also reading Madame Bovary for a challenge. Excited to finish up Wicked so I can add more focus to MB.

    • Oh I so LOVE love Wicked it’s one of my all time favourites. I must read Madam B so many people think I would love it, mainly as she’s meant to be a bit of a one isn’t she!

  9. I think it’s a syndrome of not wanting to choose because there are so many great books to read. And then I get stuck and end up not finishing anything because they have to be back at the library. I really wish I could get back to reading one (or even two) things at a time!

  10. StoriesGeek

    Mostly, I read one book at a time with perhaps a short stories or poetry collection to dip into as well. Sometimes, though, I go through spurts of starting book after book without finishing until I have a huge stack in progress. I think mood has a lot to do with it, or perhaps the season, because I eventually get back down to just one or two and set the rest aside for another time.

    • I am very much of the mind, and I think I said this a lot on this weeks recording of the next episode of the Readers that books and reading are all about everything being alligned. Who knows I may go back to one book at a time soon and that’s fine if I do.

  11. Jenni

    I used to strictly read only one book at a time. Then I realized it was affecting the choice of my books too much. I was unwilling to read long books, classics, non-fiction, books outside of my comfort zone or books in English, because they could take me weeks to read. Also I’m not very good at not finishing a book, so if my current read happened to be a bit boring I could get stuck with it for a long time.

    So now it’s quite normal for me to be in the middle of one book in Finnish, one in English, one non-fiction book and two audiobooks (different formats and languages, cd in Finnish and mp3 in English), maybe one classic or a book with more than 500 pages. This year I’m hoping to read more short stories, so maybe a collection of them as well. Somehow it seems to be working.

    • I think from seeing everyone’s comments it’s very personal. Some people only read one some can juggle ten. It’s all enjoyable so that’s great. I just love hearing about everyone’s different ways of reading and the like!

  12. Ally

    As a former book club member,my deal was becoming uninterested too soon and not finishing what I was reading. Over time, I built quite a library, with not many of them even cracked open. Now a few years later, I have discovered what a treasure I really have and am reading about 3 different books right now. I don’t find it difficult at all! As I take the time to relish these “new” finds, I realize what I’ve been missing..

  13. Never ever more than one book of fiction on the go – that’s a rule and I can’t see it changing – I really don’t think my mind could cope with more fiction at any one time. But I will often have a non-fiction book or two on the go as well – although, to be honest, I rarely read non-fiction particularly closely so that’s often ittle more than flicking.

  14. I think of myself as a multi-reader and I always intend to be one, but when I start reading something very good I find I can’t put it down long enough to back to the other book(s) and become entirely devoted to it until the last page. When I’m wading through heavier non-fiction, I do generally find it easy to have several books on the go. No matter how fascinating a history or in-depth biography might be, I need something lighter by the bedside (if only because holding those big books up when reclined becomes tiring).

  15. Femke

    I would not consider myself a multi-reader. I usually have only one novel on the go at once. I do like to have an essay collection on my nightstand, for when I feel I need a break with the novel I am reading.

    I do try to pace myself when reading something I really like. I usually have a hard time getting really into a new read, so I always want what I am currently reading (and enjoying) to last forever. I guess that is also why I enjoy re-reading, because I don’t have to put in the effort of getting into the story.

    • Hahahaha I had that a while ago. I’d finished some excellent books and started a new book by an author I really like and found I was floundering, it was because I needed to put the effort in for the long haul. It’ll be worth it and I don’t mean that to demean anything I am reading now. That book just wasn’t right for now.

  16. Studies aside, I used to be a one book at a time kind of guy. However, as Claire has suggested the sheer physical size of books can make them inconvenient at certain times – for the daily commute in my case. I generally have two or three on the go these days, usually one fiction and one non-fiction. House of Silk is one of my current reads. I’m enjoying it so much that I am only allowing myself to read it in small chunks in order to prolong the pleasure.

    • The House of Silk was a book I felt very like that about, then I couldn’t hold back any more and had to rush on.

      I’d not thought about size but yes the bigger books, and I mean hardbacks as opposed to thick books aren’t going out with me. The shorter ones are. Hadn’t spotted that till just now.

  17. I’m a confirmed multi-reader. I read up to 6 books at a time, partly so that I can extend the reading process of each over several days or weeks. If I’m enjoying a book I don’t want to finish it in one sitting. I know that sounds strange, because devouring a book in one go is supposed to be a ringing indorsement. But it gives me the reading equivalent of bloat. I feel sort of disappointed that I gorged myself when I could have paced it and felt better in the end.

    • I know what you mean Victoria. I will read a short story in one go because you need to really, same with a novella. But books I like to leave to linger. Apart from maybe a guilty pleasure. I sometimes rush those.

  18. Stephanie

    I mostly read one physical book at a time and have an audio book running in the car for my daily commute, so I guess that gives me two books. I prefer to finish one book before I start the next. Our book club decided to read The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope for a six month read (alongside our usual one book a month) but we all fell into the trap of finishing the book within the month of picking it up, as it’s such a good story.

    • You see those read a book in a year things don’t work for me and I wish they did as I would be joining the lovely Dovegreyreader and reading Middlemarch. As it is I know I would either read it straight through or read in bits and forget where I was.

  19. I am usually a serial reader of novels, if only for space and limited borrowing time reasons! Occasionally I find myself, as I do now, reading a book (The Magic Mountain) which isn’t going to be finished in a few evenings and then I need to break off to ensure I complete the book (currently Lady Audley’s Secret) which will be discussed on Cornflower this Saturday. I will then return to Thomas Mann.

    • Ah yes libraries are wonderful but the time constraint doesn’t lend itself to this kind of reading does it! I’m loving the library this year for shorter works and trying out new authors though.

  20. Janet D

    I can not have just one book on the go at any one time. I usually have a mix of novel (usually just the one but not always), short stories,reviews and non fiction plus magazines and newspapers plus the blogs I follow. I think it is because there are so many books and so many interesting life histories etc out there I need to catch up never mind keep up. When reading a novel I sometimes regret learning how to speed read as I find it hard to slow down but it is skill which does help me get through a lot of material. Each to his own I say. Do what suits you best. Happy reading.

  21. I used to be a one-book-at-a-time girl, but now I’m always reading at least two: book & audiobook. Four at once it’s as far as I go, but only on special occasions, e.g. book, audiobook, read-along book and huge book I only read at home because it’s too uncomfortable to carry around.

    As you, I’m sometimes tempted to pick up one that better suits my mood, but always feel unfaithful 😛

    • Interesting so many people mention audiobooks. I have mulled it over as I didn’t think I would be able to listen to a book in drubs and drabs. Then I thought ‘hang on I listen to The Archers’ which is a 15 minute radio soap opera, and I always seem to keep up.

  22. gaskella

    Funnily enough, I wrote a post about exactly the same subject yesterday too! At the moment I’m reading 2 chunksters and a series and managing all three by reading LORTOD – Little and Often at the Right Time Of Day. They all have their place/time to be read which distinguishes between them.

  23. I spent so long stopping myself from reading more than one book at a time because when I was a child I’d have a dozen books on the go and none of them got read – I didn’t want to do that as an adult. Last year however I was taking ages to finish a dull book and just thought “why not?” So now I limit it to two books and it’s so nice to have the choice. Maybe in a few months it’ll be three. I used to spend a while on a book I was enjoying, but my reading time is a lot less at the moment so I tend to finish them quickly.

    • It’s funny how habits from childhood effect is in adult hood. I was a one book only at a time kid, bit obsessive about it actually. Caused issues for my mother trying to read longer books with me at bedtime and I was reading another in the day. It didn’t really work so well Mum ended up having to miss chunks herself as I’d read ahead.

  24. I have always been a slow and steady reader but since I’ve committed myself to blogging and reviewing what I read I have, I’ve found that the gaps betweening reviewing books are a little too long for blogging purposes as it can be weeks between finishing books. Until today I have strictly read one book at a time but you have inspired me to experiment with a two-book strategy and see whether it works for me.

  25. Marte

    I’m a multi-reader. I usually have 5-10 books on the go at the same time, but most of them are short stories, essays, poetry and diaries. I would never be able to read non-fiction or short stories if I could only read one book at a time.

    I try to limit the number of novels I read simultaneously though. But one easy novel and one or two long/difficult books with chapters works fine for me.

    • Wow I don’t think I could cope with ten! How do you manage that many?

      • Marte

        Well, most of them are non-fiction and poetry, so I only read a little bit at a time in each book. It’s great to have a selection of books to dip into, according to mood. And they can be put aside for a while if I want to focous on other books, so some of them take months or even years to read. But I prefer to read no more than five or six books at the same time.

  26. I find with short story collections it’s lovely to take your time and dip in and out of them, so lately have had one on the go along with a fiction and possibly a non-fiction read too. Welcome to the club 😀

  27. I never have fewer than 3 books on the go, and it’s not unusual for me to be reading 7 or 8 at one go. I think it’s because of my short attention span, I need to chop and change… sometimes it takes a paragraph or two before I recollect what’s going on, but generally I’m fine!

    • You see I would never have known that. I think people, if they felt like I used to, don’t think you can focus on a book if you are multi reading. I have found it can spark different bits off my brain and is nice to have the different books for different moods.

  28. David

    Curious coincidence thrown up by my current multi-reading: yesterday, whilst reading Ronan Bennett’s ‘The Catastrophist’ (brilliant novel by the way, very Graham Greene-ish) there was a reference to a book which one of the main characters has on her bedside – ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ by Engels. Never read it, know nothing about it – the character is a Communist so I just assumed it was therefore the kind of book she’d read. And then this morning I was reading one of the stories from Petina Gappah’s ‘An Elegy for Easterly’ and there was the same book being mentioned again! Except Gappah then quotes a passage from it and the passage she uses is so relevant to the themes in ‘The Catastrophist’ that it could almost act as a description of the narrator’s motivation. Weird, but something I would never have picked up on had I not been multi-reading.

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