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Confessions of a Book Nerd: How to Read More than One Book at a Time

Read More Than One Book
You might have a book problem if you're reading more than 3 books at a time. Or in my case recently, 8 books at once.

Fellow book nerds are nodding their heads in understanding. The rest of you are staring at the screen cockeyed, wondering how on earth it's possible. You've come to the right place, friends. Today I'm going to shed light on the beauty of reading multiple books at the same time.

1. Start with a primary book.

Have one or two main books. Typically fiction or memoir, they captivate the reader. You want to keep reading these books. I make time to read these: after work, instead of watching TV, a leisurely Saturday afternoon, tucked into my purse in case of unexpected downtime.

In this case, my primary book was Shadow of Night, book #2 in the wonderful All Souls trilogy. Harkness masterfully drew me into the world she created. I can't wait for the third book to come out.  Heroes & Monsters was the other; I savored author Riebock's unusual memoir.

Not feeling the book in front of you? It's not your primary book.

(For the record, I only ever read one fiction book at a time.)

2. Add a non-fiction/thoughtful read.

The books in this category might not be as spellbinding as a novel. They're books I want to read but need time to digest or time to appreciate. Conversely, they could be extremely engaging but read at a different pace. Either way, these books likely make you think.

These are great books to read before bedtime. There's usually a good place to stop. You're unlikely to think "just one more chapter," resulting in you staying up until you've finished the book at 3 am. Not that that's ever happened to me.

I brought The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals with me on the plane to Austin. I've wanted to read it for years but I've put it off, given it's about the politics and perils of how Americans eat. A plane ride was perfect for reading about the prevalence of corn in processed food, as I ironically munched on the cheese crackers Southwest passed out.

The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse is extremely thought-provoking. While the author's style is easy to read, a book on the creative process is not meant to be consumed in one sitting. At least, not for me.

3. A poem a day...

This is practically cheating. But a book is a book, no matter how quickly or slowly you read it. I've been reading one poem from Rilke's Book of Hours every night before bedtime the last few months. His words are saving my life.

What's that? Poetry's not for you? I humbly suggest you haven't found the right kind. Maybe song lyrics resonate more than, say, Emily Dickinson or Wendell Berry. Maybe Shel Silverstein is more up your alley.

4. Something for the backburner.

This is more about variety than anything else. Need a break from your main reads? Turn to your backburner books. I might read a chapter and then not pick it up for another month. I keep these books in the bedtime rotation.

I've long wanted to read Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. It is rich and refreshing and I don't want it to be over too soon. So I'm spacing out the chapters, letting them settle a bit before moving on. On the other hand, Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust started out in the second category but I just could not get into it. (I feel like a bad Christian for saying this.) I know it's worth reading so I put it on the backburner.

5. Finally, start priming.

You have all your options, you're making progress on them to varying degrees. Now what? Identify what you want to read next. I have a looooooong To Read list, as well as a huge stack of books I own but haven't yet read. I also frequent my library regularly.

When I near the end of a non-fiction book, I add another book to the rotation for a natural segue. I might put a request in at the library for something off my list or select one out of what I already own. I decided to reread Girl Meets God, which underwhelmed me years ago. I must have not been in the right frame of mind because it's all kinds of awesome now and likely headed toward primary book status.

Bonus tip: learn how to speed read. I thank my 3rd grade teacher every day for my unusually fast reading skills.

The point is to always have a plethora of reading options. When you're not feeling the book in front of you, pick up something else. This will either make you want to go back to your original choice or press forward with one of your other options.

Start working on books from the first three categories and add in from there. Soon, you too will be a multiple book reader!

How many books do you read at the same time?

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