Reading More Without Living Less

The Benefits of Reading More Than One Book at a Time

October 3, 2012

It seems that there is a popular opinion out there that if you’re reading more than one book at a time, you must be one of those people who fall into the category of a cluttered, distracted, disorganized person. At best, you’re a multitasker who clearly is way too busy. But those who read a lot seem to say the opposite, that reading more than one book at a time is beneficial.

Johanna at My Home Tableau recently wrote a post on this titled, “The One Thing I’ve Learned to Help Me Learn More,” and I wholeheartedly identify with the core message of her article: Although it may seem counterintuitive, reading multiple books at the same time will actually help you read more.

Benefits of and Tips for Reading Multiple Books Simultaneously

1. I can read a long book at the same time as several short books without feeling like I’m drowning trying to get through the long one.

I recently read a biography of George Washington. It was a little over 900 pages long, and at first I was really struggling to make it through. (By the end, though, I was sad when it ended!) I might have been tempted to give up the book entirely had I not been reading other, shorter books at the same time. Reading other, shorter books at the same time helped me feel like I was still moving forward in my reading and provided me with new, fresh reading material when the reading got long.

2. I can read from multiple genres at a time and switch back and forth as the situation provides.

My mind works different ways when I read different genres. Some works are more stimulating, while others are more relaxing. Some require intense concentration, while others can quickly be speed-read.

I find if I read too many books in the same genre one after another, my brain turns to mush, and in some cases, fluff. Switching up genres actually compels me to go ahead andexcitedly start a new book after finishing one.

Another interesting phenomenon is finding how much seemingly unrelated topics intersect. My psychology book might actually apply something I read in a parenting book. A cooking book might intersect with something I learned about history. And so on and so forth.

3. It keeps the material fresh and new. 

Some people, myself included, find they remember more when they switch from book to book (obviously, with balance, see below). Kind of like some people thrive in academics while studying multiple subjects. This may be different for others, just like some do better when they study just one specialized subject.

Maybe I have a few spare minutes to read, but delving into a deep book would make me want to shy away from reading at the moment. Instead, I can turn to my easy-reading book. Other times, I might have a longer period of time, and can pick up the more challenging book and give it the mental energy I need to.

4. Balance is key.

The key is having not too many and not too few readings going on simultaneously. Reading fifteen different books at one time might make the majority of us feel distracted. But three to five, and you’ve probably found the right tension.

5. It helps me push myself and pace myself. 

Finishing one book gives me incentive to finish the next, and when I’m reading multiple books at a time, I’m finishing books more frequently, thus sort of instilling a self-imposed competitive drive to finish the next; I’m essentially building in a mechanism to push myself to read more and more often.

6. By keeping track of what I’m reading, I feel I have more flexibility to read multiple books simultaneously.

I use Goodreads to keep track of what I read, and it has served as a very helpful, easy-to-use tool. I also enjoy its social networking among fellow readers. If you want to keep your reading private, however, you can choose that option, too.

I know others who use Excel files or spreadsheets, and there are other online tools similar to Goodreads. I will share more about using Goodreads in a later post, but suffice it to say that this has actually helped me to read more by helping me more efficiently and effectively read multiple books at a time.

7. By allowing myself to read more than one book at a time, I also benefit from being able to read in a variety of formats at the same time.

I always have at least one book in progress in at least 3 different formats. This will be tomorrow’s topic….

Do you read multiple books at a time? What helps you push yourself to read more? 

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  • Chelo October 3, 2012 at 7:39 am

    I agree with these. Yes I do read several books at a time. At one point earlier this year, I thought I would get more reading accomplished by sticking to one at a time but I found that some books were harder for me to complete. I end up taking a looong hiatus and neglect picking up reading. But reading 3 at a time (audio, paper, and ipod/kindle) allows me to “spice it up” a bit.
    I like to read different genres at the same time as well.

    • Keren October 3, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Yes, I have done the same, too.

      Reading different genres was sort of a light-bulb moment for me, as I was getting burned out reading several books on the same subject. I was still reading several at the same time, but reading them all in the same subject cause med to get stuck or tire of reading. Adding in a new genre helped me keep going and enjoy it in the process. 🙂

  • Danica October 3, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I’m the same way. I am looking forward to your post on Goodreads … I use it to keep track of the books that I have read as well as those that I want to read. I am often reading multiple books at the same time.

    • Keren October 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      Goodreads is a great tool, and as a social media tool, I’ve learned of a few book suggestions I may not have heard of otherwise. 🙂

  • Shelley October 3, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    It took me 28 years to figure this out, but I find reading even just two at a time (different genres) to be highly helpful. I had the habit of reading theology back to back and I would hit long periods of burnout, then feel like I was somehow spiritually falling apart because I lost interest, only to have to wait for my interest to revive. I realized this year that the basic issue is just that my brain needs to switch gears often or it grows overloaded.

    • Keren October 3, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      “[T]he basic issue is just that my brain needs to switch gears often or it grows overloaded.”

      Definitely–I just figured out the different genre aspect this past year–a huge boost into keeping my brain happy. 🙂 Good way to put that!

  • Kristen @ Joyfullythriving October 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Yes! Yes! Yes! You explained perfectly why I read so many different books at a time. I find it natural to do so, because there are so many books that I want to read.

    • Keren October 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      Yes, sooo many books I want to read, too. 🙂

  • Jonathan October 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Excellent. I think it also helps to “cross-pollinate” fields of knowledge and make connections you never would otherwise. It’s kind of the point that Jonah Lehrer (or whoever actually wrote/said that paragraph in his book lol) made about creativity and innovation.

    • Keren October 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

      “I think it also helps to “cross-pollinate” fields of knowledge and make connections you never would otherwise.”

      Good term! I’ve been fumbling to have one, but I cannot even begin to describe how much this happens while I read. (And one reason why I feel so strongly that everyone should read in a diversity of fields of knowledge.)

      Ha! Technically, Jonah Lehrer should be able excused from his recent journalistic blunders in light of his research showing of how many historically renowned creators borrowed, benefited from, or stole other people’s ideas. 🙂 He told everyone he thought it was a good idea in the book, so we shouldn’t really be surprised… (Though that doesn’t really explain his attributing quotes to Bob Dylan.)

  • Maria Keckler October 4, 2012 at 2:12 am

    I love you! I usually have about 10 books going at the same time. :).

    such a fun topic 🙂

    Maria, another 31 Dayer.

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  • Lori Stribling October 4, 2012 at 8:49 am

    This was very helpful and encouraging. At one point I had been encouraged to do the opposite and just stick to one book at a time, but it did not help me finish more quickly and sometimes felt like bondage. This was a great explanation and was refreshing and freeing! Thank you!

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