Multi-Reading: Tips for reading multiple books at once

The titles from right to left: THE CANTERBURY TALES, GERALD OF WALES, THE WOMAN IN WHITE, THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING, THE FOREST FOR THE TREES, and THE CELTS

The titles from right to left: THE CANTERBURY TALES, GERALD OF WALES, THE WOMAN IN WHITE, THE SLIPPERY ART OF BOOK REVIEWING, THE FOREST FOR THE TREES, and THE CELTS

I have always struggled with reading more that one book at a time. I can do it, but I find my mind stretching to remember all the events, ideas, and themes of each novel/article/whatever. There are people, however, that read multiple books  at the same time for pleasure, like Leigh Kramer who writes a blog about reading an astounding EIGHT books at once! A round of applause for you, Leigh.

Keren Threlfall argues that reading multiple books at once, “…keeps material fresh and new” and three to five books at the same time is about perfect. I admire that so much, but I haven’t figured out how do it!

While in college, you need to read many things at once. It is a necessity. No matter your major, different classes force you to constantly be reading different novels, articles, textbooks, websites, who knows what else.

And it matters because I want everything I read to make an impact. I want all of the novels I read for school or fun or just for knowledge to matter. To sink in. For that to happen, I need time to read them.It doesn’t help that I am a slow reader by nature.

I have a few tips on how to read more than one book at a time that I have discovered through much trial and error.

1. Make them as different as you can.

The more different the genres are, the easier it will be to separate them in your mind. Fantasy vs. Nonfiction. Young Adult Fiction vs. Biographies. Male Main Characters vs. Female Main Characters. Novel vs. Play. Pairing books in this way will not only help you keep them straight, but provide a nice break between genres. If you’re getting tired of one genre, you have another one to go to for a reprieve. Sometimes, books for classes aren’t that varied. Do the best you can. Divide British authors and American authors, get creative!

2. Schedule certain days to read certain books.

Collegiate life requires a planner. At least, it does for me.I know there have been times I am in 3 different literature/English classes that all require a tremendous amount of reading. It can be daunting. Dedicate a few days out of the week for specific reading materials.

A sneak peak at my unorganized organization method.

A sneak peak at my unorganized organization method.

Maybe Monday and Wednesday you read that one novel. Tuesdays and Thursdays you read that one play. And the weekends you can dedicate to that book you really want to read for fun or that other novel you’re supposed to be reading. Or maybe that journal article. Sometimes, there is no room to schedule out reading like this, and you just have to wing it. You must make time for it though. If you don’t, you’ll drown.

This method was helpful for me because, first of all, this keeps you organized. Unless you are one of those people who can be disorganized and happy. That’s fantastic, and I’m jealous. Second of all, this helps you block out time to read. Really a life saver.

There are a lot of scheduling softwares and tools out there for you, but my favorite? A good old paper planner and pencil. Works every time.

3. Mix excitement and boredom.

This tip requires a lot of self-discipline. Pairing up a book that you are excited to read with a book that is super boring is a great way to balance things out. BUT. You have to stick to your schedule. Read the exciting book, and prolong the anticipation/love affair by getting a little on the side from a boring one. But you must actually read the boring one.

These three things have helped me master the art of reading an astonishing TWO books at the same time. Look, it’s an accomplishment. Just be happy for me.

If you have any more tips, please comment. I would love to get up to three books at the same time by the end of the year.

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brittany Means
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 21:38:53

    I’m really gad you posted this. I have a lot of trouble with this. I also found that describing the plot of each book to someone else helps too for some reason.

    Reply

  2. leebannister03
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 14:40:34

    My gosh, thank you. Reading eight or so books at the same time melts my mind in numerous ways. I absolutely have the same problem as you; I want the books I read to change my life, to make an impact, and it doesn’t feel like they can when you have to read them all by Wednesday at X time. Not to mention that I always feel lost when I pick a book back up to read some more of it for the next assignment… I always have to back track a few pages to figure out what the hell was going on.

    Reply

  3. emstclaire
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 17:24:49

    The “dangling carrot method” or reading a fun book and then a not-so-fun book, works well with me, but I do it in reverse. I read the not-so-fun book first and then the interesting one as a reward. Unfortunately sometimes I read a lot more of the fun book (aka finish the entire book) and forget that I’m supposed to be doing other things. I generally don’t do well even one book into bite-sized chunks– can you still remember the plot when you do this? I forget plot details when I do…

    Reply

    • riannehall88
      Feb 12, 2014 @ 20:20:54

      I can usually remember the plot if I make notes about them. Otherwise, it is hard to keep them straight. Of you could explain it to people, like Brittany said!

      Reply

  4. Eric Long
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 18:48:27

    When reading leisurely, I choose to finish one book before starting another, but when it comes to my required class readings, that isn’t an option. This guide may help me juggle those different textbooks, poems, and stories, but ultimately I find that they will still blur between their borders. The “reward” method is something I commonly enact with reading and other assignments.

    Reply

  5. andywelk
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 21:02:44

    When I have multiple things to read, I follow the first rule religiously. I group them by their genre’s, and read the genre’s that I don’t like first, leaving the stuff I’m excited to read as a reward for getting there.

    Reply

  6. krissymccracken
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 00:50:19

    Oh my goodness. I love this post so much. I think I am in love, in fact. I always try to do this and yet fail. I cannot wait to try these tricks and get to reading. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  7. Kate Wilhelm
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 13:48:31

    Those are fantastic tips! I also read more than one book at a time because I’m impatient. I love the idea of making them as different as possible. When I was in high school I read Eragon and Lord of the Rings at the same time. Yes, I know they are kind of different, but there would be battle scenes that I’d think about and then I’d be confused about which book they happened in. Reading is a hobby but it also takes a lot of focus and your advice is wonderful for keeping books straight!

    Reply

  8. hhoodrebel2010
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 14:54:34

    These are some great tips, as many others have said. I used to be an avid reader when I was younger, but I only read one book at a time and that is still how I am. Since coming to college I haven’t read for pleasure in a long time (actually I started a book last Friday and finished it the following day). I’m going to have to try some of these tips to see if I can make those readings more exciting. Thanks for them!

    Reply

  9. lindsaygregg
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 15:21:59

    Ah, I love this post. I cannot express just how frustrating it has been for me to actually enjoy a book these four years. You provide some great tips in staying sane whilst juggling all these books which I will most definitely have to try.

    Reply

  10. Haley Morgan
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 16:24:37

    Reblogged this on A Generation Speaks and commented:
    My lovely roommate Rianne offers 3 simple tricks to help you read multiple books at once.

    Reply

  11. breannat1898
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 00:33:48

    I can never read more than one personal book at a time. I can jungle class books because I have to, but I can’t with the books I choose personally. If I stop then usually I set down the book for months and come back and restart. But then again since I am an English major, I didn’t read much for fun except on breaks. My non-reader friends always thought I was odd because I was so excited to read during breaks. Great post about juggling it all.

    Reply

  12. Trackback: The Day Cole Porter Died | Cathy Day
  13. Cathy Day
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 17:53:52

    Teachers have to read multiple books, too. Plus, we have to be prepared to discuss works that are “up” in a workshop. On any given day, I might enter it with 2 or 3 novels and 5 or 6 short stories in my head.

    Here’s what I do:

    When I’m reading a novel that I must either teach (published) or discuss in class (unpublished), I write plot points at the top of each chapter and write the Dramatic Questions on my mind at the end of each chapter. This way, I can review those notes the hour or so before I go teach the class–even though I probably read the book months or weeks or days earlier.

    I try very hard to set up my teaching schedule so that I have a few hours to prep the day I teach. Some people like to teach all their classes back to back to back, but I would rather have time before class to prep, and I try NOT to prep until that time. I compartmentalize as much as possible. I know that that’s not possible for students who often have classes back to back, but I do think students need to compartmentalize WHEN they read for class. Have set times they prep rather than just winging it or doing everything at the last minute.

    If I have a conference with a student Master’s student, I have 80-100 pages to read and be prepared to talk about. Whew. I need to go into that very important conference with that book firmly in my head. If I don’t have a large chunk of time right before that meeting, then I have to read it and then refresh my memory before the conference–more time.

    I hope that all of you count the reading you do for workshop as important, too: every person who writes something and submits to workshop needs our very best. Even when we’ve got 5 other stories to read for that day.

    Cathy

    Reply

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