Reading Multiple Books at a Time

Current ReadsOne of the main ways I read as many books in a year as I do is by reading multiple books at a time. For a long time, I thought that’s what everyone did – had several books in progress at once, rather than reading one book straight through before picking up another one. How eye-opening it was for me to discover that that was not the case, and that many of my acquaintances and friends were baffled by my typical reading method!

The primary reason I’ve heard for why people only read one book at a time is because they fear they won’t be able to keep them all straight, and will mix up story lines and events from the different books. This is a valid concern, and it’s why I try to make sure my “currently reading” stack is made up of books that are so clearly different that I won’t have issues remembering what’s happening in them versus another book.

For a comparison, if you watch TV, and watch several shows on TV, if they’re all similar in type (say, crime dramas), you might forget which one had the episode with a particular story line. But if you watch one crime drama, one medical drama, a documentary, and a couple of comedies, you probably won’t have any trouble remembering which one had the story line about the hospital emergency. And you probably can manage to follow along the entire course of a season, even though you’re only watching it once episode at a time, interspersed with episodes from other shows.

When I’m reading one memoir, one writing book, one history book, one spiritual growth book, etc., it’s generally pretty easy to remember what’s happening in each book.

What’s the benefit?
  • Some books are simply slower-going than others. I’m reading about the Donner partyWinter of Entrapment: A New Look at the Donner Party currently, and it’s interesting, but so dry that don’t want to try and read it all at once. Smaller segments at a time let me appreciate the text a lot more. Reading other books while working through slower books helps keep me from getting bogged down and not reading anything.
  • Some books benefit from being read in small doses, with time in between to think about what I’ve read. One of my current reads is The Message of the Old TestamentThe Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever. I’m really enjoying it, but it’s also almost 900 pages, and one that is not at all condusive to being read straight through. As it is, I’m taking it a chapter at a time, typically one a week. That pace should have me finishing it up at the end of the year.
  • Some books require the right mood and setting. Certain titles (such as Wolf Hall) require a quieter atmosphere and larger chunks of uninterrupted time – those I have to save for when my husband has the kids or they’re otherwise reliably occupied. Some books (such as Homemade Pantry) can be read as I’m sitting in the backyard supervising my kids as they run around and play. By matching the right book to the right time, I can maximize my reading time.
Why Should You Bother?

If you’re happy with the amount and type of reading you’re currently doing, that’s great – I’m not trying to get you to change something if what you’re doing is working for you. But if you wish you could read more books in a month, reading multiple books at a time just might be a way for you to accomplish that.

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  1. I am so with you here, Sheila. Interestingly, I used to *think* I could never read more than one book at a time, but then I tried it, and discovered it worked for me. For many of the same reasons you mention.

    I usually have three going at any given time. In addition to the subject matter of the books being different, I am reading them using different mediums:

    1. A “regular” book

    2. An audio book – this is usually crime fiction/mystery/suspense because I listen while I run and need something I can really get into and look forward to listening too – makes the run much more enticing.

    3. A Kindle book – a wider variety than my audio books but more limited than my “regular” books this tends to be something I’ve borrowed from the library or non-fiction I’ve found online.

    • Yes! I didn’t mention this, but I used to be able to read books that would otherwise be too similar, if their format was different – listening to an audio book is such a different experience than reading a print book I wouldn’t get them confused. And I always listened to audio books when commuting because then I didn’t mind driving, or if I got stuck in traffic? Bonus! More listening time!

  2. Yes! I always have several books going at a time – usually 1 fiction, 1 Christian living, 1 theology, and 1 general non-fiction (memoir or hobby). It’s great being able to fit the books around your schedule, rather than missing out on books because you don’t have the right genre at the right time. I wish more people would realize how feasible it is!

  3. That’s such a good idea! Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how someone could read multiple books at a time, but you have a really easy solution. I read a lot of similar books (mostly self-help) and I like to digest one of those at a time. Now I just need to add some different genres into the mix so I can get more reading done. Great tip!

  4. I can keep a few going at a time but like you, I’ve found they need to be in different genres. I can only handle about three at a time but I like the variety.

  5. I keep myself, usually to 2 books at a time. One fiction and one nonfiction. I also usually have one as an ebook and one hard copy. This way I have a book with me always, in any room of the house!

    • Do you tend to always read your fiction as an ebook / nonfiction as print, or the reverse, or do you alternate? I seem to prefer fiction as ebooks, but I do read nonfiction on my ereader as well, just often find that I miss the ability to flip back and forth quicky.

      • I do tend to switch often. I will read a fiction on the Kindle, then next time in hardcopy, and the same for nonfiction. I still prefer non-fic to be hardcopy because you are right, I miss the ability to flip back to other sections easily.

  6. Multiple books at a time is the only way to go for me. I’ve recently added audio and wow! I got through 3 books last week alone. I’ve always been a big reader and that’s hard when your whole family (save your 8 year old when prompted) isn’t.

    Thanks for making me feel normal!


    P.S. Stopped by from the 7 in 7 challenge. Glad I did!

    • Happy you stopped by!

      I keep meaning to get back to audio books but need to do some research to see how to get the ones from the library onto my phone easily. It can be done, but trying to wing it didn’t work, and the troubleshooting guide I found was long and I haven’t wanted to wade through it yet. How sad is that?

      What are your favorite types of books to read?

      • That’s like asking what my favorite thing to eat is. Too many choices. I could say that I am mainly driven by interest. For example, when I was in school, I read everything in could on writing styles and how to teach young adults to be interested in reading, journaling and the like. My current interest is all things Carmelite. If you take a look at my current post, you’ll see the list I’ve compiled of things I am getting to, but I just finished Story of a Soul, In the Shadow of Our Lady and 33 Days to Mprning Glory. Before that, I inhaled The Hobbit for the umpteenth time. One of my really juicy-read-in-an-afternoon finds from the library was The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. If you haven’t, you must. To sum up, maybe? I’d say Catholic Spirituality and Classics (Madame Bovary, The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper (although that’s a short story) and I love George Eliot, The Lord of the Rings …see? Hard to pin it down!

  7. I’ve tried not reading multiple books at one time, even making a New Year resolution about it, but I’ve found reading one book at a time doesn’t work for me. My reasons are much the same as yours – one book doesn’t suit all moods or situations and some books are hard going. I split my books into ‘tree books’ and e-books (paper copies and Kindle). Right now I have 5 tree books in progress (1 First World War, 1 Medieval history, 1 medical history, 1 travel history, 1 sci-fi) and 4 e-books (2 history, 1 fiction, 1 about odd words in the English language). Like you, I find that it’s easy to keep track of where I am in each book if the books are different enough in genre or historic period.

    • What’s the book about odd words in the English language? I’ve got a book on my library holds list (hasn’t yet made it to the top for me to get it) that I’m wondering if it’s the same one.

      I don’t try to juggle that many history books at a time, even in such different periods as you’ve got there – love how you manage it though! Do you ever find unexpected connections between your books as you read them? It’s one of my favorite things about reading multiple books at a time, and I can imagine it happening for you with that many going at once. Something medical history related tying into the WWI book or something like that…

      • The book about odd words is The Horologicon: A day’s jaunt through the lost words of the English Language. by Mark Forsyth. It’s not a book I can read continuously, more a book to dip into.

        Yes, I do find connections between books as I read them, or between books generally. I read a fairly broad range of subjects, so that’s not surprising. The WWI book I’m reading is a collection of letters, so the medical history doesn’t really connect with that one (although there are WWI connections in it), but it does connect with other history books I’m reading or have read recently.

  8. Atticus Godfrey Hamilton says:

    I’m inventing a word for the person who reads multiple books concurrently… polybiblioist. You like?

  9. Yes, I multiple book read too. It allows me to get through stuff. Though, sometimes, it takes a while to get into any of the books. My focus is usually bad in December. Nothing’s sticking.


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