Reading Multiple Books: A Delicate Balance

Jillian wrote a really interesting post yesterday about feeling overwhelmed by her TBR list. I can definitely empathize with what she said about the feeling of obligation to read a certain book at a certain time making her not want to read that book. Reading is something we do for enjoyment, but feeling as if we should read a particular book turns reading into an obligation — and there is nothing fun about doing something you feel obligated to do.

Our enjoyment of books is partly dependent upon how excited we are to read them. We won’t much enjoy a book we feel we have to read, whether we feel obligated to read the book itself, or we feel we should be reading the book at this particular moment. This seems to be a very important point to Jillian, who wants to follow her reading whims and cravings, picking up whatever strikes her fancy in the moment. She says “I’d read everything on my Classics Club list at the same time as inspiration pulled, and probably have them all finished about the same time in 2017.” However, this is where we differ.

I have tons of respect for Jillian — her posts are beautifully written and full of insight — but her reading style baffles me! Although I understand her desire to read whatever is calling to her at the moment, I could never read that way! For most of my life, I have been strictly a one-book-at-a-time reader for a few reasons.

I prefer to be absorbed by one book at any given time. I want to be really interested in one book and to just live inside it for a little while. Juggling multiple books is distracting to me. It’s sometimes difficult to switch back and forth between different authors — you know that feeling when you’ve been reading one author for a while, and then you switch books and the different writing style feels really jarring and strange until you become more immersed in it? I don’t like having to change my reading mind-set each time I switch between different books. I want to be completely absorbed by one book and what one author has to say for the time it takes me to read it. Then, after I finish a book, I like to take a few days to digest it and let the messages and themes really sink in before diving into another work.

Also, I find it hard to keep my reading balanced if I’m working on multiple books. If I’m reading multiple books, I feel a need to balance my reading evenly between them. This leads to the feeling of obligation Jillian was talking about. If I read one book all afternoon and love it, I feel like I should read a different book in the evening — even if it isn’t calling to me. This is partly because if I don’t balance the books, I will end up ignoring the one I like less, and I probably won’t finish it. And I hate not finishing books. Although I’m a big fan of re-reading, trying to read a book I didn’t finish the first time makes me really impatient; I just want to get to the part I haven’t read yet, but I can’t skip to it because I can’t remember enough of what has already happened. Therefore, I must give each book I’m reading equal attention to make sure I finish them all! If I’m reading just one book and I don’t particularly enjoy it, I can blitz through it and then move on instead of letting it fester and feeling guilty about paying more attention to a different book.

Although I typically prefer to read one book at a time, I have recently found a way to balance multiple books that works for me! I’m currently participating in the Bleak House read-along over at Unputdownables, and I love reading it in addition to a book of my choice. The schedule breaks the reading down into small chunks (about 10 pages per day), which keeps the length of the novel from being overwhelming and leaves me plenty of time to read another book for pleasure (not that Bleak House isn’t pleasurable). Hooray for finding a balance!

What’s your reading style?


13 thoughts on “Reading Multiple Books: A Delicate Balance

  1. Oh, not me!!! I can’t possibly read one book at a time (though I really want to try it, just to see if it would make a difference in my reading.) My brain is wired to do several things at once. So if I’m only doing one, I feel incredibly distracted and cannot concentrate on the one at all. (Like a juggler who is trying to juggle only one ball? Awkward!)

    My issue is when I try to make each book I want to read “an obligation” — like the way you describe. If I’m pulled to read Mansfield Park and feel I must penalize that craving by giving War & Peace equal time? I end up hating both books. I want to read whatever I please. A Mansfield Park craving needs to come without obligation to some other title. Lately I’ve been forcing that obligation by making lists I try to accomplish throughout the month. When I remove the obligation, I find I crave everything again — even War & Peace.

    I do need some balance — something between obligational lists I try to accomplish in a month — and my natural scattered approach which would make me absolutely JOYFUL but truly would leave me juggling it all until 2017, when books would begin to arrive at the finish line. 🙂

    • I really love that people have such different reading styles! Your approach fascinates me. I am intrigued by your ability/desire to pick up whatever you feel like reading at the moment. I would never finish anything if I did that! If I was suddenly drawn to read Mansfield Park and set War & Peace aside to satisfy the Austen craving, I would have an incredibly difficult time picking up W&P again. If I take too long a break from one book, I lose interest and have trouble getting back into it.

      I think you’re on the right track with making your monthly lists just an idea of what you will read rather than a list of things you must read. I totally agree that there’s nothing like the feeling of obligation to ruin your reading experience. Good luck finding your balance!

  2. Interesting thoughts! I agree though, I’m definitely a read-one-at-a-time person, too. I get too distracted switching from book to book and I often become so absorbed in something that I cannot put it down, let alone switch to another! I also don’t plan so much what I’m going to read and when… I do have a loooong list of books to read eventually, but I pick and choose from that as and when I want. 🙂

  3. I always find this interesting, hearing about different people’s reading habits. I personally find I will be halfway through several books at any given time, but normally actively reading 3 or 4. When people have asked how I do this, I make a somewhat weak comparison to watching television series – you don’t only watch one series at a time (well, actually, with DVD and blu-ray boxsets a lot of people probably do nowadays), you alternate between them, and I think it is much the same with books, for me at least. I want to know what is going on in several stories at the same time. What I find is that often I am reading 3 or 4 wildly different books – perhaps 3 or 4 different genres, or sometimes non fiction books, such as biography, or history, or even neurology (nerdy, I know).
    I do, however, know what you mean about getting pulled into a particular book because you become immersed in the writing style. I find every now and then a book does that to me in such a way that I cannot put it down and I tend to ignore the other books I am reading temporarily.
    I do find I have cravings for different kinds of books too. I tend to alternate between lighter, funnier books, and then classics, or intellectual books, or whatever. Since finishing university though I do enjoy books a lot more because they all feel like books I want to read, not books I have to read. 😛

    • Your TV series comparison is really interesting! I hadn’t thought about it that way. TV shows typically have a little “previously on ____” segment preceding new episodes, though, which makes it easier to keep track of plot lines. How nice would it be if books had those? “In the last few chapters, these important things happened!” That would definitely help me keep track of multiple books 😛

      I like alternating, too. It’s definitely nice to follow a more serious, intellectual book with something lighter. Too much of any one thing gets monotonous.

      • That is true, that would be useful if books had little recaps of preceding events like that! I know they do sometimes in series of books, mind sometimes those recaps go on for 20 or 30 pages themselves 😛
        And that’s exactly right. For the sake of keeping it interesting I think it’s important to alternate, and I find it amazing how some people just read one kind of book, over and over.

  4. I always love hearing about how other people read! I think I’m closer to your reading style than Jillian’s. I will usually have two books going at a time, but they have to be totally different. For me, that usually means one is fiction and the other is non-fiction. I like having at least two books going so that I have another option if one just isn’t calling to me that day. If I find myself enamored with a book, I won’t be able to put it down. I’ll practically race through it. I wish I could savor a book more slowly like Jillian does! When I’m not enjoying a book, I end up letting it drag out because I keep putting it down (although I like your point about powering through it to just get it over with). I do my very best to keep my books from feeling like an obligation. I already have enough to do every day without forcing myself to read something! I used to be make myself finish a book, even if I hated it, but I’m slowly starting to let myself just set things aside. I sometimes find that I will try a book at a later time and like it so much better! My mood can totally affect how I feel about a book.

    • I like your idea of reading both a fiction and non-fiction book at a time. I like what I’m doing right now, which is kind of similar — reading a classic and a contemporary book.

      That’s great that you can set aside a book you aren’t enjoying and then try it again later! I hate to not finish something, and I don’t have much patience in second attempts; I just want to get to the part I haven’t read yet!

      I definitely agree that mood has a huge effect on your perceptions of a book 🙂

  5. I was a staunch one-book-at-a-time reader until last year. I felt like I was cheating on a book and its characters if I started reading another. Since joining book clubs, though, I’ve been reading more than one book at a time an it works out well. If I get really into one book, I’ll set the others aside for a bit to finish it.

  6. Hi Leah,
    Some years ago, I simply could not read more than one book at once, but now that I am a full time writer, professional reviewer, and devoted book blogger, I find myself juggling over 3-4 books at a time!.
    First time on your blog, and loved it totally. your articles are fun, witty, and thoughtful. Following you now!
    Please do visit my book blog at
    I wrote about TBRs and reading styles recently too.
    If you like the blog, please follow!

    • Thanks for stopping by and for the follow! Your blog is really good; I’m happy to follow back 🙂 I was so excited to see a review of Beatrice & Virgil near the top of the page — it’s in my to-read pile, although I’m a little bit less excited to read it now, haha.

What say you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s