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.
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.
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.
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?