How I Became a Book Polygamist

This is a guest post from Swapna Krishna. Swapna is a freelance editor and chronic bibliophile. When she’s not working, reading, or off on some exotic adventure, she’s probably wandering around her Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, DC, with a craft beer in hand. You can find her book reviews at S. Krishna’s Books and her incessant ramblings on Twitter at @skrishna.

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Pile-of-BooksI have a confession to make.

I’m a polygamist.

I’ve tried so hard to make monogamy work. But there are just too many choices out there, calling my name, and I can’t ever choose just one. So I’ve resigned myself to living a polygamous life and reading multiple books at once.

Books? Yes, books. What did you think we were talking about??

It’s not easy balancing multiple books at once. I know a lot of people who are vehement about the fact that they simply cannot read more than one book at once. I used to feel that way. But circumstances and reading impulses led me to start picking up a different book, even though I already had one going. My attention span can be limited; I like the thrill of having something new to read when my current book is a little slower than I’d like.

In fact, because organizations and spreadsheets are my THING, I created a system for it.

At any time, I’m usually reading between four and six books.

The first: My “regular” book. The one I read cover to cover. This is usually an “easier” read, a mystery, thriller, or work of contemporary fiction. (By the way, easier doesn’t mean that I see it as inferior or having less merit; it just means that these books are just simpler to read. They’re often meant to be read in one or two sittings.) This is how I always read growing up, but after college, I started finding that this didn’t satisfy me. I wanted to read more classics, more heavy fiction, more Rushdie, Ishiguro, and Atwood, who do not lend themselves to being read quickly. Part of the joy of these books is reading them in small increments and reflecting. So I introduced the next phase of my polygamous reading life.

The second: The “literary” fiction. Heavier fiction has a lot of different names. Literary fiction is the general term, and while it can have its negative connotations (mainly, that it’s better than other genres because it’s “literary” and also, probably related, it seems to be dominated by male writers, relegating females to “women’s fiction”), it’s the best term I have, so I’ll go with it. Adding this meant that I was reading more novels that made me think—and more South Asian fiction, which can be heavy, but is a real passion of mine. I was floating along merrily, reading 50 pages a time of a literary novel in between my full regular reads, until I realized another problem: I wasn’t reading any nonfiction. Time to add another category.

The third: Nonfiction. This has been, perhaps, the biggest shake-up to my reading life. Adding nonfiction opened entire worlds to me that I hadn’t even considered. In fact, I’ve been enjoying nonfiction so much over the past year that it’s been creeping into other areas: It’s been more than once that I’ve picked up a second nonfiction read instead of a literary novel. So, then. 50 pages of nonfiction and 50 pages of literary fiction in between my regular reads—but we’re not done yet. Oh, no. Let’s move onto the chunkster.

The fourth: Chunkster. 100 pages of a 400+ page novel also added in between my regular reads meant that I was reading more long novels without losing the pleasure of accomplishment that comes with finishing a book. I never would have picked up Game of Thrones or Hild without this addition.

At any given time, I’m also reading something on my ereader (I read regular books on there as well, but I try to always have a book going on it simply so I don’t forget to pick it up) and an audiobook.

Right now, I’m reading: The Expats by Chris Pavone (regular), The Grammarian by Annapurna Potluri (literary fiction), Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (nonfiction), The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price (chunkster), My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel (audiobook), and Wool: Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey (ebook).

This system has worked well for me for over five years, and as long as I don’t read the same genre at once across books, I don’t have any trouble keeping up with what’s happening. I get the satisfaction of finishing books while also reading books that I might otherwise write off as too difficult, slow, or long.

Can you read more than one book at once, and if so, do you have your own system for reading?

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