Kernels of Nonsense, #32: Are You a Monogamous or Polygamous Reader?

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a bimonthly discussion feature where I tackle various bookish topics and encourage readers to join in the discussion. Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind for a while: reading multiple books at once.

I’ve always thought I was pretty good at multitasking. I mean, I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I’m actually really good at getting things done simultaneously, but with reading, there’s some switch in my brain that won’t turn on because I find it extremely difficult to read more than one book at the same time. I just can’t divide my attention, whether it’s television or music or holding a conversation with someone who thinks it’s a good idea to talk to me when there’s a book in my hand, I can’t do both no matter how much I want to.

I often see other bloggers reading multiple books at once and it makes me wonder, how do you do it? I’ve tried and I find it a really frustrating thing to do. For me, I have to focus all my attention on a single book. The best way for me to describe it is that I have tunnel vision. I have one book and I start at the beginning and I can see the end of the tunnel so I head that way. Along the way I learn about the setting and characters, I contemplate themes and plot. I’m traveling along the tunnel when suddenly another path opens up, filled with other characters, setting, and plot, inviting me to join. But instead of feeling excited about the prospect, all I see is a distraction, on obstacle to my main goal of getting to the end of that first tunnel.

When, for whatever reason, I have to read more than one book at the same time, I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions which can be a tad overwhelming. I don’t have kids but I have nephews and a niece and if it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, I get bombarded with “Tía!” “Tía!” “Tía!” (that’s Spanish for aunt in case you were wondering) from all sides and I have to decide who to listen to first because it’s impossible to give the kind of attention I need to give to each at the same time.

I’m not a fan of having to pull myself out of one world, jarring me from the experience and having to focus all my energy into a different book when mentally I may still be in the other one. I just don’t enjoy hopping from one book to the other and back again. This is one of the reasons why I also never start a new book until I’ve written a review of the last one I’ve read. All my thoughts and feelings are fresh in my mind and it’s always best to put what I think down because there’s a strong possibility that if I wait, things might not so clear (have I mentioned I have a notoriously bad memory?).

Mathematically, because I like to consider all angles (feel free to think of me as a nerd from this point), reading multiple books at once shouldn’t save time because you still have to spend a particular number of hours reading each book to finish. Let’s say book one takes four hours to read, book two takes five. If I read them them separately, it will take nine hours. If I read them together, it will still take nine hours. Tell me I’m wrong here!

The only exception I make for this rule is readalongs. These books usually take longer to get through than if I were to read them by myself, so I usually read something else at the same time. Last August I did a readalong with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was a month long, so of course it wasn’t going to be the only book I picked up that month.

Do you read multiple books at once? What are your reasons behind it? How do you divide your attention? Are you like me and can only read one book at a time? How do you handle readalongs that take longer than the average time it takes you to read a book? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

38 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #32: Are You a Monogamous or Polygamous Reader?

  1. I tend to have multiple books going at once but they tend to be different formats – like a print book and an ebook so it makes them pretty easy to keep straight. Right now I have a print book going, a mystery on my Kindle and a romance on my Kindle because the mystery is a little creepy so I read a chapter of the romance before I go to sleep. There are some books that I just have to focus on and just read one but for the most part because the format and times I read them are so different it isn’t a problem.

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  2. I’ve gotten so used to reading multiple books at once that I have a difficult time reading just one, now. I think it has a lot to do with my attention span, and the fact that I read so many different genres/formats. So I always have an audiobook and an ebook going, at least. And then there are the times when I’m in the middle of a fantasy but also, sometimes, want a contemporary to break it up and have something different.

    I do like the IDEA of reading one book at a time, though. It just doesn’t work for me anymore. (Although it used to!)

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  3. I generally stick with one book at a time. If I’m reading more than one book at once it’s usually means that I started one, but got distracted by another one. I’ll finish the second book before returning to the first, but I don’t usually read like a few chapters of one and a few chapters of the next in a row. That would drive me crazy.

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  4. I usually read around 3 books at once, but I tend to choose different genres. With romance and horror, especially, it’s pretty easy to get the plots messed up if you’re reading multiple books from the same genre simultaneously (I’m only talking about myself here). Mysteries and thrillers are the easiest to keep a track of, in my opinion.

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      1. Lol, no it’s not like that, actually. I know quite some people who can’t/don’t read more than one book at a time, because they feel that they’re not giving their fullest attention to the book that way. So it’s alright, really. The main thing is that we read, and we love to do it. That is the only thing we need to be able to call ourselves bookworms. You are definitely one! 😀


  5. I used to be just like you, totally could not handle reading multiple books at once or I’d get incredibly confused! Then, one day something just clicked and I decided to try reading two books at the same time… and it worked! Now I usually have a print and an e-book going at the same time, and I try to read different genres as well, just to mix it up a bit.

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  6. Dearest Alicia,

    I confess I am a polygamous reader. How I came to fall under this perplexing style of reading is beyond me, truly. I suppose one reason lends itself to the way some books tend to bore me, thus I kindly walk away looking for another suitor. Another reason lends itself to my vexatious and frivolous taste in writing style ― if the writing is not solid, I walk too away *sigh*

    Yes, the rumors are true. I am an extremely snarky bookworm ― I dismantle books piece by piece examining each facet meticulously. Why I reason like this I cannot say, this is a question I have tried to answer myself.

    All this to say, if I end up stumbling upon a book that is well-executed and crafted, then that book will gain my undivided attention; that’s for sure! But until then, I will cuddle with the four books I’m presently reading 🙂

    Yours Truly,
    – Sparrowhawk

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    1. Ah, yes, the temptation of others is always difficult to resist. It’s easy to fall under the spell of an author whose words are like music to the ears, poetry to the soul and forget about the rather bland language of another. I’m often tempted to sneak a peak at other beaus when wondering why the one in front of me cannot hold my attention, though I’m more likely to drop the first like a hot potato before sidling close to another. I cannot blame you for allowing so many books to woo you at once, if I could, I would do it more often.

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  7. You know I hear your mathematical argument, and I agree completely with it, but on some level my heart is telling me that it’s quicker for me to read two books at once. I suppose it’s just the illusion of getting more done, because I’m reading more than one book.
    I tend to read a couple of books at a time. One ebook and one or two physical copies, one for at night and one for during the day or on the bus. I’ve never been bothered by getting stories confused – for some reason, that just has never happened to me even if I’m reading two books from the same genre.

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    1. It sounds like you’ve mastered the art of reading more than one book at once. I envy you, and even though I know my argument is sound, there is a part of me too that keeps saying I’d get more reading done if I could read more than one book at once.


  8. I’ve almost alwaysonly ever read one book at a time unless I was forced to read something I didn’t really like for school etc. until I started comuting. Now a lot of the time I read something on my kindle so it’s easy to carry about with me, but I also have a physical book going at home because most of the things I really really want to read I tend to buy hard copies of! I find reading different ones in different places and only having access to one at a time makes splitting my attention between them a lot easier

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      1. Ah so would I usually, but when it came to carting it about every day along with all my other stuff an ebooks was just so much easier. Especially given the size of some of my books! I only really read them when travelling or commuting 🙂


  9. I, honestly, can be either. I’m very versatile. 😉 In truth though, I definitely prefer reading only one book at a time. I would rather give all my attention to one book, instead of dividing it between two or more – but I can if there’s a good reason for it. (Also, I am one of those people that can read and listen to music without any problems and I have very few problems reading while watching TV,) I like getting fully immersed in the world and, if I really like the book, I don’t actually WANT to read anything else. There are a few exceptions – like when I listen to audiobooks, I’ve always got another book that I’m reading. Also if I really don’t like the book, but want to finish it (and can’t just push myself through it) chances are I’ll have another book that I’m reading while trying to convince myself to finish that not-so-good one.

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    1. Haha, being versatile is a rare talent! I used to be so good at reading while listening to music, but I just can’t anymore. I tend to just trudge through a book I’m not enjoying because I figure if I focus on that one alone, I’d get through it faster than if I pick up another book.


  10. I prefer to read one book at a time, but I sometimes find myself reading two. However, they must be of different genres and have different plots, or I’ll get confused. I think you’re right, though. It doesn’t really matter in the end, because it will still take you the same amount of time to finish, I think.

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  11. I’m definitely book monogamous. I even experimentally tried to cheat on my books before, but it didn’t work out too well – ( I enjoy immersing my self in a story, when I try to read more than one text at a time it begins to feel like a chore for me, like I’m doing it to intentionally try to read more. It’s just not as enjoyable. I can typically read anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours per night, but my usual reading pace is in and around one book per week. If I mix that up and try to read more books, it’s a cert I’ll end up forgetting plot points and losing focus. I just like book monogamy 🙂 R x

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    1. Yes! What if I don’t feel like picking up the other book I’m supposed to read? I’m pretty sure if I tried this, I’d forsake all of them for one eventually. I hear ya, it’d be wonderful to be able to do this because at the very least I think it would feel like I was getting more reading done, but I know what I like and polygamous reading is not it.

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