Should we read one book or many at a time? I’ll tell you what my experience has been, hoping that it may help you experiment and see what works best for you.
As an English as a second language teenager, I started to read one fiction book after another for many years. That is, I’d read daily, and as soon I finished one book, I’d start the next one.
Fast forward to 2016, when I shared how I was catching up with my book reading. At that time, I said “I have the bad habit of starting to read several books and then taking a long time to finish (I just finished a book that I started to read 3 years ago!)”
Why did I refer to that habit as bad? Because it takes a long time to finish? So what?
I’ve since realized that I can finish reading a book within a timeframe if needed; when I’m in a book club, or taking a course that has deadlines for the reading assignments. For all other books, I just take my time. No need to hurry.
I picked up Tribe of Mentors in 2018, and finished it in 2022! At some point I’ll skim over it again, reflecting on highlights and notes I wrote for the book.
Be always reading
But back to reading many books at a time. I keep doing that. It’s a habit. Not a bad one.
Mark Manson brings up that up as one of his tips on how to read faster: read more than one book at a time.
For the record: I don’t necessarily want to read faster. I want to be always reading.
I try to choose books that are very different from each other; e.g., a technical book and soft skills book.
Sometimes I do end up starting books that turn out to have some overlap. That’s ok; I take note of that, often exploring differences between the different authors’ perspectives, or where they overlap.
What I’m reading at the moment
As I write this post, these are the books I’m actively (daily) reading at the moment:
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships, by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Humans vs Computers, by Gojko Adzic
These are the ones I read a few pages every week:
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama
Stronger: Courage, Hope, and Humor in My Life with John McCain, by Cindy McCain
And this is one I read a few pages every month (I started it in 2017. No rush.):
- Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, by Tim Ferriss
What, when, how
I’ve been somewhat specific about what time of the day I read each book, and even which format (printed, ebook, audiobook).
The “morning” books are usually the ones I’m reading as part of a book club and I want to take more notes and reflect more on what I read, so I can have better conversations with the groups. I favor printed copies for these.
The “evening” ones are easy-reads that won’t get my mind too engaged with, otherwise, I’m not letting my mind rest while I sleep.
When I’m reading technical books, I favor reading those in the morning, so to stretch my brain, getting it active for the day. Again, I don’t want to feed the mind with complicated stuff right before going to bed; I used to do that, but not anymore.
I have been marking up the book with highlighters and writing notes directly on the pages and on stickies. When I finish the book, I go through it again, processing my notes, connecting them to other thoughts, which helps me wrap up books that take me a while to get through.
A conversation with multiple people
Here’s another way I’ve been thinking about this practice of reading multiple books at a time.
Say we walk into a party, strike conversation with someone, and 15 minutes later realize we couldn’t quite connect. Should we stick talking with that person through the end of the party? Maybe we should thank the person for the chat and politely check out.
Or maybe we did connect with the person and can tell we could easily spend hours chatting, but, we also notice that there are a few more people we’d like to connect with at that party. How about we exchange contact information, write down a few words to remember the context of the conversation, and then go chat with the other people?
We can approach books as conversations with their authors. Start the conversation, and if we’re having a good time, keep it going (or write some thoughts down and come back to it later).
But if it’s dragging and we feel it’s going nowhere, put… it… down!
We do NOT have to finish every book we start.
Sometimes I do feel like giving up on a book, but if it was highly recommended, I may stick with it a little longer, asking myself why I’m not enjoying it: is it the author’s tone, their analogies with which I can’t connect, too many points I heavily disagree with?
Whatever the case, I may find out I am the problem, and can think of ways to change my perspective in how I’m approaching my reading of such book.
So be always talking to many people. Be always reading.
#1 by Stuart Danker on January 26, 2023 - 6:42 pm
Yeah, I’m a bit more liberal in putting down books these days. No time to read them all, so I might as well read what makes me happy. And I approach multiple books the same way: one non-fiction and one fiction. The ‘learning’ one usually in the day, and the fiction during eating or before sleeping. Anyway, thanks for this post!
#2 by claudiolassala on January 26, 2023 - 8:35 pm
You’re welcome. Glad you liked it. I haven’t been reading a lot of fiction in the last few years, but I had a few of them on my to-read list. Any recommendations I should consider?
#3 by Stuart Danker on January 28, 2023 - 4:27 am
I’m more of an SFF guy, so it may be a tough sell for you if you don’t read a lot of fiction. But Project Hail Mary was one of my awesomest read last year!
#4 by claudiolassala on January 28, 2023 - 8:47 pm