Confession: When I tell people that I’m reading a new book, what I really mean is that I have added it to what I affectionately call my “emotional support stack of unread books.” Among the current pile is a new novel by a favorite author of mine when I was a child — she’s ventured into fiction for adults in recent years — a 600 page novel which was heartily recommended by a friend, a collection of essays I receive for Christmas (author campus visit coming soon!) and a book by a pastor about the role of doubt in faith. On my way to class, I listen to yet another title in audiobook form which brings the “books I’m currently reading” up to five — not including what I read for class.
Some may say that this is too much (“How do you even keep the plot and characters straight?”). My friends recognize it as part of my particular brand of chaos, but reading multiple books at the time gives me pathways to access different worlds. At any given time, I’m reading one book to challenge my preconceived notions, another to equip me to face the world as it is and another to help me imagine what it could be. I also usually read a nonfiction book, and it’s always fun to see the way that art borrows from life when the subject of that book and one of the novels I’m reading coincide.
Reading multiple books at once is not altogether unprecedented. It’s the same logic behind both taking multiple classes at the same time and doing multiple excerpted readings for those classes: there are serendipitous connections one can only make when looking at multiple subjects, stories or worlds next to each other. Reading multiple books at the same time has meant identifying trends within publishing that have led to my thesis research and deeper thinking. I might not remember which book (or collection of books) I got an idea from, but at least once a day, I find myself talking about a book I read somewhere.
Now, you might be scrolling through to the end of this column so you can email me about your mindfulness practice. Slowing down is a virtue that many Yale students are trying to cultivate. Some might even balk at the analogy to classes I made earlier. There may be times that we wish we could slow down, linger and exclusively study one thing. Especially during a busy midterm week, I have even fantasized about a semester in which I only have to take one class. I’m also mindful that I’m talking to a group of people so busy that reading one book for pleasure seems impossible, much less five. I hear you.
But reading multiple books at the same time isn’t about maximization. In fact, it can feel much slower since you’re chugging along many different roads without the dopamine rush of finishing a task. And it’s not like a class where missed reading can simply become irrelevant after that week’s meeting.
Reading is a choice you make every day, and you can choose that day’s reading to match your mood or your ruminations. Not feeling that dystopian dread today? Pick up a whimsical book about a girl lying about her entire life. There are many books I only got through because I had light hearted reading to provide some respite in between dark, heavy passages. The books I read for fun end up being a lot less like classes and graded work and more like friends that walk with me through day to day life. And who couldn’t use just one more friend?
This article was originally published in the Yale Daily News as part of my biweekly column, “Reading the Room.” For more on books, check out the dearyall book archives or my latest post on books you should read this year!