Friday, August 2, 2013

On Reading Multiple Books at a Time

My general principle for pleasure reading, ever since I was a little girl, has been that I must only read one book at a time. This is partly a byproduct of this quirky personality trait of mine where I'm very good at focusing obsessively on one thing (multitasking is not my strong suit), and partly a mental motivation to finish the books I start, even after I've lost interest in them. Now that I write it out, it seems that both of those are quirky personality traits. I just hate leaving books unfinished (when they are truly terrible, I have to give myself a pep talk about how it's okay not to read the whole thing). This principle of mine helped me finish War and Peace in 8th grade, even though it took me several months to plow through it, and especially during those last few excruciating chapters when the story had wrapped up nicely but Tolstoy went on philosophizing for ever. I was not old enough to appreciate anything beyond the fact that my favorite characters had finally gotten married, and I found those chapters extremely boring. I finished because I could not let myself move on to a new book until I did.

However, now that I have several formats for reading books, and now that I generally have a queue of books available on those different formats, I find my habits are changing. For instance, I've got several audiobooks on my ipod, a few e-books on my e-reader, and my good old stack of hard copies on my nightstand, and I find that just because these books are in different formats, I feel justified in having a book going in each format at any given time. I listen to my audiobook when I want to multitask, I read my e-books when I'm on the go and don't want to lug a bunch of real books with me (and let's be honest here, I read my e-books on the computer too, during those little moments after I've checked my email but don't actually want to work on something productive), and then I have my "real" book for my dedicated reading time (usually at night in bed).

But it's gotten worse. Now that I've given in to having more than one book going at a time, I don't just limit myself to one per format. Currently I'm in the middle of about five books, and it makes me feel guilty for being unfaithful to my long held principles. Also, I find myself neglecting the one less interesting book because I have so many other options, which leaves me fretting that I'll never finish that one less interesting book, which gives me little fits of anxiety.

Is this silly?

It's probably very silly. I probably need to not worry so much about finishing every book I start, especially when they are not important or very good and I could spend my time reading better things. So maybe this is actually a good development.

But also, sometimes it's good to plow through the hard things. To get all the way to the end of War and Peace just for the sheer accomplishment of that feat. And sometimes it's good for the soul just to finish what you start.

Ah, what the pleasure reading habits of a person say about their personality! I wonder if Freud ever analyzed this topic.

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