Your Currently-Reading Pile: “Just One Shot” or Book Mixology?

Edd McCracken

Staff Writer

Edd McCracken lives in Scotland, dislikes book spine breakers and loves when small words harmonise to make big ideas. Follow him on Twitter:  @EddMcCracken

When it comes to reading, are you more Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter or Al Pacino in Scarface? I don’t mean while you’re scanning Franzen’s latest do you dabble in a little Russian Roulette or consume huge amounts of class-A drugs (although this may help reading his recent interviews). Put plainly, when it comes to books, do you read one book at a time, ‘just one shot’, or do you have so many on the go that you call your currently-reading pile your ‘little friend’?

Personally, I’m of the Deer Hunter persuasion. Reading one book at a time is not an ideological stance. Reading more than that just befuddles my brain. Plus it is really handy for not losing your bookmark.

There is serenity in just having one book on the go. Nothing can distract you. No other book is tugging on your shirt tale demanding to be read instead. The few occasions I have dabbled with being a Scarface, I found it was like having a brood of children constantly craving your love and attention, like a demented, insatiable Brady Bunch.

So, it’s just one shot for me. Look at De Niro on his monastic deer hunting trips in the Pennsylvania mountains. His one bullet is not a burden. It grants him a Zen-like stillness. Less so once he gets to Vietnam, where both his mental health and my analogy start to crumble. But one book, just like one shot, gives focus.

Yet part of me is attracted to the dark romance of the Scarface reading style. The end of the film, actually, all of it, is as gloriously excessive as someone who can read a James Patterson potboiler, a classic PG Wodehouse, The Hunger Games, and whatever is riding high in the non-fiction charts, all at the same time. In Scarface, Pacino wanted the world and everything in it. So, it seems, do his reading heirs.

Frankly, I’m in awe of book mixologists. James Joyce was one. He read two pages of seven different books every night. This provokes many questions in my Deer Hunter mind. How can you separate the pace, tone, and plot of each of the books in your head? Do the books not bleed into one another, to the point where you yell people down in public who deny the presence of car chases in Great Expectations? Are there things you can’t do, such as read two books of the same genre at once? Is that the Scarface equivalent of crossing the streams?

Could the Scarfaces let us Deer Hunters into a few of your secrets and strategies?