This is a guest post from Laura Sackton. Laura is a lifelong reader, writer, and lover of made-up worlds. Until recently, she ran a small organic vegetable farm outside Boston, MA. After fifteen years of farming, she decided it was time to devote herself full time to writing fiction. She currently lives in Nantucket, where she spends her days wrangling a novel-in-progress, chasing her dog across the moors, and spending as much time as physically possible in the ocean. She blogs at www.book-open.com.
I recently finished Min Jin Lee’s sprawling, multi-generational family epic, Pachinko. I loved this book. Lee’s evocative prose brought to life a time and place I knew little about. Not only was it an engaging story with characters about whom I cared deeply, but it was one of those books that illuminated bigger truths—about war and the legacy of colonialism—with such power and subtly that it seemed to sink into my very bones.
But it was slow. It was a long and graceful five hundred pages. It was not the kind of book that had me reading past my bedtime or sneaking pages during lunch. It took me twenty-three days to finish. I mention this not because it matters how long it takes to finish a book—or how many books someone reads, for that matter—but because of something I’ve learned about myself as a reader over the past few years: I don’t like to get stuck in books for too long.
I am certain that if I had started Pachinko a year ago, I would not have finished it. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but simply out of impatience. I am a fast reader. I devour books. This is the way I have always read: tearing through books like they are ripe fruit that will not last. If a book takes me a long time to finish—more than eight or ten days—I start to get claustrophobic and antsy. I start to feel trapped.
I used to have a strict one-book-at-a-time policy. I don’t know where this rule came from, but I refused to let myself start a new book until I’d finished the current one. This worked out fine until I started a book that wasn’t a quick read, and then I’d find myself in a frustrating reading slump. I’d get stuck in a book and go for weeks without reading, feeling resentful of the blameless book and generally grumpy, because reading is a major part of my mental well-being. Not only that, but the rule kept me from reading nonfiction (which takes me longer to finish than fiction), and it scared me away from starting anything over 550 pages or remotely challenging. I have started Moby-Dick three times and still never finished it, despite loving the ~150 pages I’ve read.
I don’t know why it took me almost thirty years to lose the one-book-at-a-time shackles. When I finally realized that reading multiple books at the same time wasn’t stressful, but liberating, it changed everything. The most amazing thing about this new system is that I always have something I want to read. When I’m too tired to read a slow and serious novel (i.e. Pachinko), I pick up some beautiful fluff: a queer romance or a fun YA fantasy. If I’m upset or sad I allow myself to reread a comfort book, even if I’m right in the middle of another novel. I listen to nonfiction on audio while I’m cooking; I read poetry when I have a few minutes while waiting to meet a friend for coffee; and when I crave that feeling of finishing books in rapid succession, I can read three comic books in four days.
In the twenty-three days it took me to finish Pachinko, I listened to two audiobooks (The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, a reread). I read a beautiful and moving graphic memoir (Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do), three delightful YA novels (Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo and Dreadnought by April Daniels), a book of poetry (Dogs Songs by Mary Oliver), a strange and haunting fantasy (The Devourers by Indra Das) and a short, funny comic about creativity (The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider).
Allowing myself to read multiple books at once has increased how much I read overall. Much more importantly, it has increased the diversity of books I read. In 2015 (when I was still reading one book at a time) I read two nonfiction books. In 2016, I read fifteen. So far this year, I’ve read thirty-three. This statistic alone blows my mind—but that’s not even the best part. The best part is that I enjoy reading more. I’m no longer rushing through books to get to the next one. There’s no more frenzied need to finish everything quickly, afraid of getting stuck in a book and falling into the black hole of a reading slump. I still devour books, but I’ve learned how to savor them, too.
Moby-Dick is on my TBR for this year, and for once, I’m confident that I’ll actually finish it.