Wednesday, June 09, 2010

How I'm Reading, What I'm Reading, And Why

I was talking to my teaching partner at work the other day about one of the books that I was reading, The Devil in The White City by Erik Larsen (no, my nerdy compatriots, not that Erik Larsen). I was telling her something interesting - or at least, something I thought was interesting - that I had learned when reading it. And she looked at me a little confused. "I thought you were reading a book about evolution?" she said.

"I am. I'm also reading this book, though."

"I can't read two books at once," she said.

"I can read way more than two books at once," I said. "In fact, I have...six on the go right now? Not including comics."

She looked at me with a mixture of astonishment, awe, and yes, a little pity. "How can you DO that?"

I shrugged. "I always have," I said.

And it's true. I started reading I was a young man of four years old, and I can't really remember a time I didn't own a library card. My first library card was made out of yellow cardboard: it had Stony Plain Public Library printed on it in black letters, and my name and account number was written blue ink. I still remember my account number: 2222. Almost every weekend my parents drove fifteen minutes into town to do some errands, and I looked forward to these trips beause I got to go to the library, and find four new books. I started out getting kids books, but even by the age of nine or ten I was wandering into the adult non-fiction section to take out reference books, yes, REFERENCE BOOKS. Books about movies, science, music, history, whatever. I must have checked out The A-Z Encyclopedia of Movie Monsters over a dozen times.

I was always constrained, though, by the number of books I could take out. My child account stipulated that I could only have four books out at a time, so I had to choose wisely. I generally took out two books that I'd have done in one week, and two that would take me longer, so I would always have the excuse to go back to the library every week. This worked out okay, but soon I was asking my dad to take out a couple of books for me on his card because I couldn't take out enough on mine. I still remember the day I got my "adult" membership. It was on blue cardboard, and I could take out as many books as I wanted. I ran around the room like a kid in a candy store, except that, at twelve, I was still basically a kid at the time. I think I walked up to the corner with fifteen books. The librarian looked surprised, but I was elated. I had been waiting for this moment a long time.

So even back when I was a kid, I was reading multiple books at once. I never got confused, never forgot anything from a previous selection while I was reading something else. I never understood how anyone could be confused by reading too many books. After all, my mom watched more than one television show concurrently, and she never was confused about why David Suzuki wasn't talking about Dr. Sam Beckett's controversial time-travel theories, nor did she think that Heathcliff Huxtable was going to show up in the Cheers bar after a hard day's work of delivering babies. People don't get their television shows confused: why would I get characters or plots confused in the books I was reading?

So, what am I reading now? Well, I have since finished White City (which was very interesting, if a little jarring at points where the author switched narrative viewpoints). But if you take a look at my statistics on GoodReads, you'll find that I'm reading 18 books right now. But really, let's remove four of them right away, because I started them a LOOOONG time ago, and haven't made any progress on them in at least six months at best. And of those that remain, four of them are comics trade paperbacks, so let's take those away as well. That leaves me with ten books currently "on the go." And what are they?

1. The Third Chimpanzee - A non-fiction book about the evolution and development of the human species.
2. The Avenger #1 (Justice Inc. and The Yellow Hoard) - A collection of pulp stories about The Avenger, a man who suffers nerve trauman which makes him able to sculpt his face, and who uses this new ability to fight the mob.
3. The Dead Man's Brother - A book by acclaimed sci-fi author Roger Zelazny (my friend Mike would take issue with this one, methinks - it's a previously-unpublished crime novel, no robots or flying cars or anything).
4. How To Read Superhero Comics And Why - A non-fiction book about the literary and artistic merits of the superhero comic book.
5. Lady Chatterly's Lover - A novel by D.H. Lawrence that was banned in the U.S. and the U.K. when it was first published (and that I am now reading as part of an iPod app - oh, how things have changed in 80 years).
6. A Princess of Mars - The second book in the Barsoom Chronicles by Edgar Rice Burroughs (hopefully I've redeemed myself in Mike's eyes).
7. Sometimes A Great Notion - A re-read of a personal favourite, in fact, a book that is on my shortlist for the Greatest American Novel.
8. The Crime Writer - A novel by the crime writer Gregg Hurwitz, an audiobook version that I got through Audible.
9. The Film Club - A memoir about a man who home-schooled his high-school dropout son by watching movies.
10. A Gentleman's Game: A Queen & Country Novel - An espionage thriller and the first novel in the Queen & Country series (all previous stories were comic books).

All of these books are in various stages of completion, but I don't get confused when I pick them up. Sometimes I might forget, for a moment, the particular plot details or the hypotheses in the previous chapters, but generally I can get up to speed within a few minutes. I'm not always at TEN books at once, but generally it's between five to eight. What can I say? Does that make me weird? How do YOU prefer to read: one book at a time, or a hodge-podge that you can pick through at your leisure and/or convenience? Let me know, readers.


Brittney said...

While I've never read 10 books at a time, I have noticed that over the years I'll have more and more books on the go.

Normally, I only read one book at a time. You mention that your mom can watch multiple shows at once, and I agree. However, when there's a great show, like LOST or Bones, I will power through multiple seasons in a short amount of time. The same way I get engrossed in these shows, I get engrossed in the books. I don't want to read anything else, I just want this.
So I guess what I'm trying to say, is that usually it's one or two books at a time for me.

Jago said...

My limit is normally four. There are some books I've taken a break from, either consciously, or just because I'm a guy who just easily forgets what he's doing. (Think I've been 2/3 through Catch-22 for three years now.)

But I can definitely have one book I'm reading at home, one book for commuting to work or at work (before I started working from home), and another one or two on the go.

Bookmonkey said...

I can juggle about half a dozen or so, but they all need to be in different categories (i.e. a comic, a horror, a non-fiction, a crime novel, a textbook, etc.) I find if they are different enough they don't tend to overlap.

Xeryfyn said...

I'm with you--lots of books, multiple plot lines and no character confusion. I do like ot have a variety of books though--some non-fiction aimed at parenting, some non-fiction aimed at education, some non-fiction aimed at literature, som fiction of YA persuation, some fiction that is more "adult" and some other fiction that is definitely "adult" if you know what I mean.

How are you these days otherwise? I miss talking with you!

NinjaStolz said...

I only read one book at a time, not because of plot line confusion or mixing up characters but because of something you actually stated in your post.

"let's remove four of them right away, because I started them a LOOOONG time ago, and haven't made any progress on them in at least six months at best"

That's exactly the reason I don't do it. I'll start a book and then it falls to the wayside because I've started something else.Why read a good book when you can read an amazing book? By the time I'm finished the book that displaced the first one I've already disengaged from the first enough to start something else new and then odds are I'll never finish that first book even though it's probably perfectly good.