Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Question for the Hive Mind


When  I was single digits years old, I discovered that my next-door neighbor and first girlfriend Susan Richards (who later beat me into print by years with Hubert, the Caterpillar Who Thought He Was a Mustache) read more than one book at once.

Back then, I read one book at a time. I asked my mother what was correct and she firmly told me to finish each book before reading the next.

Who was correct? Mom or Susie? And does that answer apply to my adult reading?

I solicit your input. Answers that simply state your preference without explaining why will be deleted. It's your reasoning that I'm most interested in.



skyknyt said...

I am currently in the middle of both the George Jackson autobiography and The Name of the Rose. This is a fairly normal thing for me!

History tends to be fairly intense, and reading it all at once can make it a spectacle instead of a meditation. Mr. Jackson wrote these letters over years, to different people, about different topics. His life wasn't a narrative, it was complex and messy and he changed over time.

Umberto Eco, meanwhile, feels like he wrote his book as one to be savored. The symbols he uses are deep, complicated, rushing through it feels like I'm gulping down a favored vintage. He comments that other readers have discovered depth he hadn't intended, but enjoys considering himself.

Will I find a new depth? Not by rushing, at least. Together, they form an internal commentary on each other,
"It does not seem to me that they (Franciscans) were preaching things contrary to the Gospel, but when the possession of earthly things is in question, it is difficult for men to reason justly, and so they put them in prison. I was told that years later, the new general of the order, Raymond Gaufredi, found these prisoners in Ancona and, on freeing them, said: 'Would God that all of us and the whole order were stained by such a sin.'" - The Name of the Rose

"If history is our guide, it clearly records that nothing of any great value has ever changed hands without a struggle or at least a show of, or threat of, violence. Men simply don’t surrender what they think of as their privilege me property except by force. " - Blood in my Eye

I wonder what Adso would make of the nature of prisoners in our prisons.

Trebor said...

More than one at a time. I have a short attention span, and don't normally remain interested in anything but the most engrossing material for longer than a few chapters. I'll then switch to something else and return later. Additionally, I have different reading materials in various parts of my home, so that I can read whenever I wish.

JJM said...

As a child, I stuck to one book at a time -- I was always in too much of a hurry to find out what happened next to switch to another book mid-stream. As an adult, for a long while I had three books going at once: the main one; the one I kept in the bathroom; and the one I kept in the bottom of the laundry bag to pull out after I'd emptied the clothes into the washing machine at the laundromat. (The last book was always Dickens; in effect, I read Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House in the way they were written: as serials.) Nowadays, the bathroom book is more likely to be a small stack of The Atlantic magazines. Most of my reading is on the Kindle, where I do by and large stick to one book at a time, although I occasionally switch from a "heavy" read to a "light" one sufficiently different that my aging mind does not merge the two together subconsciously. For example, while I was reading Guy de la Bédoyère's Domina, with all its footnotes and all its Roman families with their limited (hence easily confusable) range of names, I'd occasionally slip in a story or two from Giovannino Guareschi's The Little World of Don Camillo just to rest my mind. And, of course, there are books for which I drop all others and read breathlessly from start to finish.

I take it your mother never considered the possibility that what is the right way for one person might not be the right way for another? Or that changing mood or circumstances often dictate a corresponding change in what book best suits the mind? That the book one reads on the bus to and from work does not require as much concentration as the book one reads curled up on the sofa at home in peace and comfort? Unless the book is obligatory reading with a deadline, e.g. for a school assignment or a book club meeting, staying with one book until it is finished is purely a matter of preference and the needs of the individual reader.

Richard Mason said...

I can see no objection to reading multiple books in parallel if the reader will finish all of them in the end.

If, in actual practice, one book is likely to be abandoned for the next, and left unfinished, then I do see some virtue in stick-to-it-iveness.

In adult life, I don't finish books as often as I would like. I wouldn't be dogmatic about it, but I think a little moral exhortation that I ought to finish things before moving on would be good for me. (Let me not be accused of smugly practicing what I preach.)

Bookmama said...

I am currently in the middle of a book at work, another by my bed, and one at the kitchen table. In the summer, I'll add one on the porch. I've done this ever since I could read. However, I can no longer read two books from the same genre at the same time. Old age! As far as I'm concerned, it's personal preference. If you can manage reading more than one book at a time, go ahead! Your Personal Librarian says it's fine.

Grigio said...

A "good" book requires my undisputed attention.
Reading it's like having an intense (and possibly insightful) conversation with a person so a second book would pollute the exchange.
In any case, Italo Calvino has said everything possible about (also) this topic in the his masterpiece "if a winter night a traveller" so, if you haven't read it yet, I leave you to be amazed by it.

Phil said...

I always read one book at the time, and I also try to read it with the less possible interruptions. I want to be immersed in the story as deeply as possible, and the book to become the only reality until the end -- and a few hours, or days !, after.

Michael Swanwick said...

I kinda wish there were a "like" button for Blogger, because I like every one of these comments. Thoughtful, sincere, and worth thinking about.

I'm going to think about them all, seriously.