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One Book Or Several?

A photo three books - Vincent Lam's The Headmaster's Wager, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park, and Kimberly S Young's The Eighth Wonder as an ebook

I haven’t written a post like this for a while, so I’m aware today may be a nonentity. I’m definitely out of practice.

I used to be book-monogamous. I was strict about this to the point of silliness. Then I experimented and found I could read a fiction book alongside a non-fiction or one of the two alongside an ebook of either type.

Now I read anything and everything with anything and everything and I’ve found both benefits and drawbacks. Please forgive my constant use of emphasis in this post, I want to make the subject of each paragraph obvious.

The biggest drawback to reading more than one book at a time is that it’s all too easy to lose your way for one and then just say “hey, I’m already reading two books, what difference will one more make?” This is why I’ve still Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair on the go, the latter for over two years now. It’s a lot easier to justify starting another book when you’ve already decided that you’re not monogamous, and it’s very easy to tell yourself that you’re not putting a book down for good. What’s hard is actually carrying it out, putting the book down and then coming back to it within a reasonable period of time (because let’s face it, a few years down the line doesn’t really count in this case). You could say that you should simply stop reading it, formally, but often these books are ones you were enjoying, you just happened to catch ‘shiny new object’ syndrome or have no reading time for a few days. (I think we all know how problematic for various reasons no reading time can sometimes be.)

However the biggest drawback to only reading one book is that it can stop you reading completely. For a while, at least. If you become bored with the book you’re reading, that’s it, unless you decide to DNF it and that’s a topic for another day. It can take a while to get through a book when you’ve reached a dull section and if you’re only reading that one book you won’t have any bookish respite from it for a potentially long period of time.

Another drawback of more than one book is confusion, confusing the storylines. This can of course happen anyway if you get through books quickly. A further drawback of one book is a lack of variety at any one time.

The variety that accompanies more than one book is important. Get bored, switch genres; learn about two subjects. You can also end up reading more books overall because variety helps with pace.

Yet the biggest reason in favour of one book is attention span. All your attention on that one book may just get it read. And, bonus point, if you write reviews and you like to write them soon after finishing, you’re highly unlikely to ever have more than one outstanding review at a time. It’s also easier to remember what you wanted to say in the case you’ve forgotten to make notes.

Do you read one book or more? Why?


Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

August 11, 2014, 4:38 am

Like you, I’ve also made this switch over time. Most often though, I have one print + one audio book going at a time which I find easier to not confuse the stories AND I am able to read during times I could never be reading a print book (folding laundry, cooking, washing the dishes, going for a walk, etc. etc.) I’ve on occasion had 2 print books going, but it’s not all that often. If I do, my secondary book is more likely to be an anthology or collection (short stories, poetry, etc.) My “main book” is almost always my print book, but on occasion the audio will steal the show which is nice sometimes too :)


August 11, 2014, 5:30 am

I like reading many books at once, for the variety and because I read in all the nooks and crannies of my day and some books aren’t really suitable for reading while in line at the grocery store.

This summer I am taking this to extremes — I let myself START a book each day, with no pressure to finish anything. At the end of the summer I shall probably have to spend the entire autumn finishing the dozens of books I’ll have in my reading bag (a large tote).

I find I don’t get confused between story lines unless I’m reading two books by the same author; even then in might only be a problem if they are in the same series or something.

Margaret @ BooksPlease

August 11, 2014, 7:04 am

I’ve tried reading one book at a time – and it just doesn’t work for me, as I always pick up another book or two to have on the go. I like the variety. I usually read non-fiction alongside one or two fiction books and as I have a Kindle, one of the books is an e-book.

I don’t get confused with the story lines – it’s just like watching several TV series during the week. But it can be a problem if I leave one book for too long, which has just happened with The Goldfinch. I’d read quite a long chunk and left it for several weeks and I did have to start it again!!

And what usually happens is that I get to a point in one of the books when it takes over and I have to finish it, leaving the others whilst I do.

What can be a problem is writing reviews, because if I don’t write them straight after finishing a book I have to flick through it to remind myself what I thought. Sometimes I make notes, but more often than not I use book darts to highlight passages that are significant, which helps.


August 11, 2014, 7:07 am

I can’t understand how anyone can read just one book at a time. :) I usually have about 10 on the go at the same time, fiction and non-ficiton, and don’t have any trouble keeping them separate in my mind. I guess I’ve never been a monogomous reader, but reading more than one book at a time does slow down my progress towards finishing anything.

I think you could mark Vanity Fair a DNF after two years. :)


August 11, 2014, 2:28 pm

Generally I’m a one book at a time kinda gal, but like you I can be swayed to read fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. I find that I can also pause reading one book and read another in-between it (which I am doing right now with Great Expectations.)

Literary Feline

August 11, 2014, 3:41 pm

I used to be a strictly monogamous reader, but overtime that has changed. I’ve often got a book in audio and print/e-book going. On the rare occasion, I had a third book to the mix (like right now).

I admit though that even when I have multiple books going at once print or e-books), I tend to end up with blinders on and settle into one book until it’s done before going back to the other one. So, it’s often the case that I end of up reading two or three books before I actually finish that first one I started. One of the reasons I prefer not to juggle more than an audio and print/e-book at a time. I’m still monogamous at heart, I think. :-)

In terms of my audio listening, it takes me so long to get through a book that way . . . I find I don’t really think of it as polygamous reading when I have one of those going along with a print or e-book. But I suppose it is.


August 11, 2014, 4:34 pm


But technically I’ve been reading three at the same time for the last few months.

My currently-reading section on goodreads has had Anna Karenina and Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar plus a rotation of books, which I read in 2-3 days.

AK is long, but that’s not an excuse really because I inhaled Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy. AK is a soap opera with page long descriptions. Like a historical Lifetime mini-series that airs every Sunday for a month. So I guess I’m reading it like that.

Everything is Perfect is funny and well written but doesn’t have me needing to turn the page. Or laughing constantly to the point I can’t put it down. And since it’s not fiction, nor requiring me to remember certain detail to continue, it’s been sitting in my ereader for a bit. Shame on me, writing this is going to force me to finish it soon.

But aside from this temporary reading anomaly I read one book at a time. I fully get engrossed (hopefully) into the story along with the characters. I may or may not talk directly at the book sometimes. I could see myself being able to read a non-fiction along with fiction but I generally read quickly and like to focus on one thing.

It’s odd though, how I need to only have one book plot at a time to fully focus, remember and keep up but can watch hoards of television shows at once and keep all the plots straight–mostly, I have no idea WTF is happening in Hemlock Grove.

Jenny @ Reading the End

August 11, 2014, 10:01 pm

I’m almost always reading more than one book at once, usually because I don’t have a certain book to hand when I want to read. So I end up having a book for the bathroom while cleaning my teeth, a book for the bus ride to work, and a book for reading before going to sleep. And then if one of them starts to really grab me, I’ll become monogamish with it until it’s finished. And if one of them never ever grabs me, I’ll ditch it for the time being. I know that I’m prone to circling back around to books that didn’t thrill me the first time, so I don’t feel guilty abandoning any one particular book if it’s not the right fit for that moment.



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