A Case for Reading Multiple Books at a Time

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Sarah Rahman

Staff Writer

As a recent college graduate who studied English just so she could read more books, Sarah spends most of her time devouring whatever catches her fancy, from classics to young adult reads. She aspires to write a novel someday. When not reading or talking about books, she can be found hiking in the woods or dancing alone in her room. Now, for that cup of tea she was making . . .

Recently, I’ve been meditating over how reading multiple books at a time is a wonderful idea. Some books lend themselves almost perfectly to different parts of my day. I read in sessions of various lengths every day, and often have as many books as sessions.

If I’m rereading a book, or going through a particularly long classic, I’ll crack it open in the morning and spend the first part of my day with it. I am a morning person. It is when I am most attentive, and most willing to concentrate. All the birds sing inside my head with readiness to start the day. It is the perfect time for tasks that require my concentration and patience.

Lunchtime is almost the opposite. I have a good 20 minutes on hand, and I want something light and fun. Preferably a collection of short stories, although anything that makes me laugh is a win.

I reserve the night for indulgences, when I can spend hours before bed losing myself in a story. If it’s an absorbing tale, I will happily trade my sleep for a few more hours of delicious escapism.

Some of the genres I read defy my little schedule. I’m not quite sure where poetry fits in. It’s perfect for morning meditation but short enough for my lunch breaks. Nonfiction is similarly tricky — do I want it with breakfast or bed? In those cases, I make way for my mood and follow whatever suits my fancy.

One of the things I love about this habit is how I am constantly cultivating a hobby that brings me joy. It’s a little like how I prefer tea over coffee. I can only have one cup of coffee because it’s enough to make me jittery with energy. The slow effect of tea, however, means I can have it thrice in one day. Why on earth would I deprive myself of three opportunities of happiness each day?

carry on jeeves cover

I wouldn’t. Obviously. This, however, wasn’t always the case. It all started when I read an article about someone who read multiple books at the same time. My one-book-at-a-time self couldn’t be more horrified. Or fascinated.

The mind boggles, as Bertram Wooster would say.

I’m not one to knock something without trying it, so I tried it, without much thought of whether I would like it. I was skeptical, I’ll admit. I expected myself to muddle up characters among books or lose track of plots. I thought it’d be like how sometimes I’ll be listening to a song, and just before the second chorus, I’d accidentally hit the skip button, leaving sadness and disappointment curdling in my stomach.

Spoiler alert: none of those things happened.

I followed each story as I would, normally. My brain had no problem keeping track or switching lanes. The only thing that did change was how much I enjoyed what I was reading. While I like most of the books I choose to read, I don’t always want to be reading them. Sometimes the subject matter is too complicated, or emotional, or not emotional at all. The list goes on and on. By reading a set of books at a time, I have the option to play it by ear and read whatever I’m in the mood for. You know that feeling when what you’re reading is exactly what you needed?

Reading multiple books is the science behind that. Three cups of tea, thrice the happiness.

I don’t know if I’ve been reading more since I began doing this. What I can tell you is that it helped me read more widely. It was easier for me to include more non-fiction into my reading diet, a resolution I had been struggling with before. I made time for poetry too, which was another rewarding change.

My only regret is that I didn’t jump on this bus earlier. I was telling a friend, recently, about this habit and even after they listened to why I love it, they began telling me about how it was bad for me. In a tone of concern, I was told about how I couldn’t possibly remember all that I was reading and that I should read one book at a time, patiently and with the utmost focus.

Really, the mind boggles.