Used to be I would only read one book at a time. It was a resolution. I couldn’t plunge into a new book until I finished the one I was reading. So what changed? What made me switch from a single book to a mini-library?
What made me think I could only read one book at a time? Maybe I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep different books separate in my thoughts? I still try to avoid reading more than one novel at a time. Not that I’m fastidious about it. I was just reading Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven and that’s certainly different enough from Proust’s Swann’s Way that there’s little likelihood of the two getting mixed up in my head.
One difficulty came with long books. I’m not a fast reader. Was I to stack up comic books while I forced myself to attend only to Tom Jones? Did I really restrict myself to the deathbed edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass until at last I closed the cover on the final page?
Poetry was a big reason I threw aside the notion I could keep myself to a single book. I decided forcing myself to read poem after poem after poem without a break was doing nothing for my appreciation of poetry. Especially when it was difficult or I wasn’t sure I liked it or I plain didn’t like it but felt I ought to keep reading so I could learn something about what not liking meant.
Comics were, too. Many a comic story is played out over several issues. And nobody’s expected to save up all the parts to read at one sitting. If you buy more than one series you’re immersed in more than one ongoing story. It’s not hard to pick back up where the story left off a month previous.
By the time I was going to college, of course, there was no way I would be able to restrict myself to a single book – each class had its own list of books to hurry through. And there were plenty of things I wanted to read that had nothing to do with my classes. I remember thinking I would limit myself to five books – one book of poetry, one book of nonfiction, one novel, one book of short stories, one graphic novel. Something like that.
A book will come along and take over and I’ll just read that until I’ve finished. Then there will be the evenings I read a page or two from each of eight volumes. Books – particularly anthologies of poetry, short stories or whatever – will be pursued regularly then forgotten for a month or so. There are probably a few books I’ve started and never will finish. But I like to get all the way through a book. I finger the pages, look at the thickness of what’s been read, what waits, ponder what needs resolving in the story or whether I’ll enjoy more of the poems to come than I’ve enjoyed what’s passed.