How to read 5 books at once (and not get them muddled)

1. The Main Book

As the title implies, this is what I regard as the book I’m focusing on. It’s what I read when I commute or if I get an odd spare half an hour (and I have it on me). It travels around and I get through it relatively quickly. I’ll typically average about 20-25 pages a day.

Past examples: The Wasp Factory, Dazzling Darkness, Watching the English

Current example: Theology of Hope by Jurgen Moltmann

2. The bedside book

The bedside book is a long book  that is read slowly. Typically only 5-8 pages are managed per night. Sometimes, it does come on the commute and makes for a break on a Friday from reading the main book.

Past examples: Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Histories, Philosophical Investigations

Current example: The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

3. The coffee table book

This is a book made of multiple short ‘bits’ that only take a few minutes to read. The Very Short Introductions are very good for this.

Past examples: Boffinology, Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities, 50 Ways the World Could End.

Current example: Hebrews for Everyone by Tom Wright

4. The lunchtime book

Very similar to the coffee table book, this is a shortish work that props up my keyboard at the office. I get to read for about 20 minutes at lunchtime, so it has to be something that can be picked up and put down with ease. This is only something I’ve started doing recently.

Recent examples: Art Theory – A Very Short Introduction, The Social Contract

Current example: Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil

5. The Sunday afternoon book

To make a break from the rest of the week’s reading, Sunday afternoons need something a bit different. It needs to be something that doesn’t need to be read continuously, so it can’t be a constructed argument for anything. Rather, each part needs to be self-contained and preferably not too short so that you can get stuck into it for an hour or two each week. For this, short stories are ideal or a collection of essays. Again, this is only something I’ve started doing recently, and any work I do read this way will be one I take my time over.

Recent example: Dear Life

Current example: Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit

So how do these not get muddled up in my head? Well, I try not to read too many of the same genre. If I do, they tend to be at opposite ends of the genre. For example, it is very rare that I read two fiction books at once. If I were to do so, one would have to be a classical work (such a Thomas Hardy novel) and something science fiction-based (like a work by Philip K Dick).

Similarly, if I were to be reading two science books at once, then I might opt for one on biology and one on maths.

You get some interesting confluences between books sometimes. For example, I was recently reading Livy’s Early History of Rome, which was being referred to by Jean Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract, which I was also reading. Then Rousseau was referred to by Rebecca Solnit in her book on walking, Wanderlust. Given the possible permutations of books being read simultaneously, I wonder if I was the first person ever to come across that particular linkage.

One of the other methods I used to use (when I spent longer commuting) was to have one book for the morning route and one for the evening.

What about you?

Do you read lots of books at once or do you prefer to focus on one at a time?

5 responses to “How to read 5 books at once (and not get them muddled)

  1. @Stroopwaffle

    I haven’t been able to read books since I became ill (over 10 years ago) but, for me, a book is not good enough (and maybe not worth reading) unless you don’t want to put it down; it should be completely engrossing. Due to differing tastes, of course, what is unputdownable for one person will be different for another.

    Also, I can’t multitask to save my life so would hate to have multiple books on the go. I can’t stand the thought of going on to read another book without finishing the other first! That would be stressful to have partly finished books hanging over you; I’d hate not knowing what happened in the previous book and how it all ended while starting another book. Unbearable. Why would you do that, whyyyyyyyyyy??!!

    • Consider an alternative that’s more up your street. You’re watching a series of Gilmore Girls, when there happens to be a new series of Doctor Who starting. Do you forgo Doctor Who until you’ve finished Gilmore Girls who do you sneak in an episode from the Gallifreyan before you’ve finished the lot?

      It might be because I have a short attention span. I want to read ALL THE BOOKS and, like a greedy child, I want to tuck into pudding before I’ve finished my mains. Then there’s also the fact that some books can be an effort to get through. For example, at the moment, Theology of Hope is really thick on the obscure German philosophy that I’m unfamiliar with, so to read another book is a bit of a break, without having to temporarily give up reading.

      • @Stroopwaffle

        I’m afraid I’m the same with TV programmes as I used to be with books! I like to watch all of the episodes in one TV show before moving on to the next show (otherwise it makes my brain feel untidy with scraggly ends of unfinished shows hanging over me). I like the continuity and knowing how one ends before beginning another. I’m also very impatient and hate waiting a long time to find out what happens next. I’m not a fan of anticipation. I just like to know already.

        This is easy to accomplish when I’m working through shows on Netflix or box sets but harder when there are shows on TV which only air one episode once a week. So I have to sometimes make exceptions but I prefer not to!

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Early History of Rome (books 1-5) by Livy | The Alethiophile

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau | The Alethiophile