How Many Books Are You Reading?

Last night, as Mike and I were going to bed, I read to him from a book I had just started. It was a book on marriage. It was debunking traditional advice given to people who desire to have a better marriage. Then this morning I read to him something I had read about Nihilism. It interested me because it applied to a problem a friend of ours was struggling with.

He said to me, “I thought you were reading the book about marriage.”

“I am,” I responded, “but I’m also reading about Nihilism.”

Then he thought for a minute. “And weren’t you just talking to me about something you read from A Wrinkle in Time?”

“Yep. I’m reading that too.”

I counted them up and admitted that I was actually reading six books at the moment.

He laughed, because he had five books of his own going at that time.

Now, before you put me in the “egg-head” category I need to make it crystal clear that I’m not a part of the new intelligentsia—as if that’s exactly what you were thinking. I do love books, but primarily because I need lots of help with life.

Sadly, I can’t take St. John Chrysostom, C.S. Lewis or David McCullough to lunch and pick their brains. I can’t literally surround myself with all the people smarter than me, or people who have traveled down roads on which I’m traveling. But I can surround myself with their words. So, when I have a question, when I need help, when I need to see life from a different perspective, I pick up a book.

I don’t always finish books. Occasionally I do, but more often than not I don’t. And that’s just fine. Sometimes it’s like meeting someone, getting the help you need and moving on without having to know everything they say about everything. And let’s be honest, some books aren’t worth finishing.

But many are and I just keep them going until I’ve gotten what I need, I get bored, something else grabs my attention, or until I finish them and grieve over their departure.

As I’ve thought about the number of books I tend to have at my side at any given time, I discovered three reasons why I don’t stick to just one:

1. Books come in a variety of formats. Each format fits a particular situation.

Traditional bound books:
Perfect for morning reading. I usually have a ruler and a pen in my hand. I ask questions, jot down comments in the margins and have a conversation with the author while I enjoy my morning coffee.

Audio books:
Great for road trips and long walks.

Electronic books:
Best for air travel and waiting rooms.

2. Books address the diversity of life’s circumstances. Life comes at you fast, from all angles.

Stories, Fiction, History:
For when I need some comic relief or a new perspective on life.

Practical Living:
For when I need to tap into someone else’s life experience and get concrete help for life’s challenges.

Personal Growth:
For when I need inspiration and an encouraging word from travelers who are ahead of me on life’s road.

3. Our days play out in a variety of settings. The different settings present different opportunities for learning.

Morning Reading:
My mind is the most alert and the most “teachable” in the morning. Consequently, this is when I tend to read “heavier” material.

On-the-go Reading:
If I’m likely to be distracted or interrupted I’ll gravitate toward fiction or stories that don’t require me to have a pen and paper in hand.

Bedtime Reading:
Because I’m already sleepy, I need a book that I can read in snippets. I rarely finish a chapter at night so I want to read bite-sized portions that will give my mind something positive to meditate on while I sleep.

So, there you have it. Three reasons why I read several books at one time and why it’s OK for you, too.

QUESTION: What about you? How many books are you reading right now?

P.S. Here are the books I’m currently reading:

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Audio Book)

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (Kindle)

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman (Paperback)

Nihilism, The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose (Paperback)

Giver of Life, The Holy Spirit in Orthodox Tradition by Fr. John Oliver (Paperback)

The Melody of Faith, Theology in an Orthodox Key by Vigen Guroian (Paperback)

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82 Responses to “How Many Books Are You Reading?”

  1. I love this post, and enjoyed reading the comment thread too. Lots of great recommendations to add to my ever growing list. I’m always dipping in and out of books too. The only exception is fiction. I don’t usually read more than one novel at a time, but the non-fiction stack on the nightstand is always teetering. Your post reminds me that I want to reread A Wrinkle in Time. Thank you for writing!

  2. I am usually reading 3-4 at a time. I think that trend dates back to my grad school days, when I reading a number of books all at once for my lit classes. Right now I’m reading Margaret Feinberg’s Scouting the Divine, Austen’s Persuasion, and a historical novel that I’m reviewing for a website. I love reading more than one at once, ’cause I can pick and choose what I’d like to read depending on my mood. Certainly keeps things interesting!

  3. This is a wonderful blog post. My wife and I keep stacks of books beside the bed and near our favorite chairs – I probably have two or three tucked in pockets in my car. I’ve wondered (feared) if this illustrates an undiagnosed attention deficit, so your post is reassuring. Currently, I’m reading Ian Cron’s “Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me,” Ken Robinson’s “The Element,” Tony Campolo’s “Let Me Tell You a Story,” and the book of Nehemiah. Your point about not feeling compelled to finish every book also resonates. When I held the notion that I had to finish any book I ventured inside beyond the opening pages, I didn’t read as often. It’s liberating to feel comfortable saying, “Thanks, that’s enougth for now.” Thanks (you should write a book on reading).

  4. It’s fun reading through these recommendations! I’ve added a few books to my “To-Read” list.

    My current stack:
    The Fitting Room–Kelly Minter
    Organized Simplicity–Tsh Oxenreider
    The Help–Kathryn Stockett
    Home Education–Charlotte Mason (Kindle)
    The Count of Monte Cristo–Dumas (Kindle)
    Mere Christianity–Lewis (MP3)
    The Hiding Place-tenBoom (MP3)
    Charlotte Mason Education–Catherine Levison

  5. Thanks, Aimee. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. I love this post, and enjoyed reading the comment thread too. Lots of great recommendations to add to my ever growing list. I’m always dipping in and out of books too. The only exception is fiction. I don’t usually read more than one novel at a time, but the non-fiction stack on the nightstand is always teetering. Your post reminds me that I want to reread A Wrinkle in Time. Thank you for writing!

  7. Duly noted. Thx.

  8. I was not aware that I had any ads on my site. Could you give me a little more information about where it comes up? Thank you. You can email me at gbhyatt@gmail.com

  9. Thank you for your post. I often have half a dozen books going at once as well. I take a little bit from here a jot from from there in the spare and rare moments of motherhood. I noticed that an ad for debunking the myths of mormonism as a cult came when I viewed your blog. I did not know if you were aware of that. It links to mormon.org. Same on Facebook when one calls up a Christian video. Just so you are aware…God bless!

  10. Gail, I am so impressed with folks who can keep the thread going of reading several books at a time. I read mostly on my kindle, iphone and now ipad and read the same book on whichever device is in my hand at the moment. I might be reading in line at Publix or in the doctor’s waiting room on my iPhone, my Kindle in the car on a trip or out on the porch and get to the same book on my iPad in bed at night because I don’t have to turn a light on and don’t bother my husband. I think for me it is a concentration thing. I read a book until I’m done and then read another one. I have been able in recent years to just quit if the book is not fulfilling or if I have gotten what I need from it. Not yet to the point of being able to read more than one at a time. Especially fiction. College reading was very tricky, as I majored in Philosophy and History. Lots of reading all the time. I can’t tell you how many whole days I spent on the couch plowingatraight through Plato, Kierkegaard, Descartes, etc. while waiting to read my history texts and primary sources! THAT was a stretch for me.

    I’m loving your blog and following your adventures on Twitter!

  11. Good reading. Like others have mentioned… it is freeing to realize that it’s okay to have multiple books going! And to not finish!

    My current list:
    One Thousand GIfts by Ann Voskamp
    The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel
    Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction by Geraldine Markel
    Making a Home For Faith by Elizabeth Cladwell
    Putting Away Childish Things by Marcus Borg (my one novel)
    Pray Like Hell: How to Talk with God by Maxine Outlaw
    And there are a bunch more that I’ll probably never finish…
    and here’s the one that I figured was the explanation for having such a long list: ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolberg & Kathleen Nadeau

  12. I second Gail’s recommendation. Just superb!

  13. Thank you, Connie. One of my favorites on your list is Abba’s Child. :-)

  14. Bible
    Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire by Rafe Esquith
    Lord, Only You can Change Me by Kay Arthur
    Abba’s Child – The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning
    Knowing the Heart of the Father by David Eckman

    Pre-reading: The Mystery of History Volume 1 by Linda Lacour Hobar

    Reading to children: Chester Cricket’s New Home by George Seldon

    In my last town I had a dear friend who was a children’s librarian. I loved to go to her house and see the stacks of books she and her husband were currently reading :) She said we all need a mixture of books to read for different moods, different times of day, energy and focus levels.

    Loved this post :)

  15. You should definitely read Rest of God and the Scarlet Thread – 2 of my favourites on my “re-read” list!

  16. This is perfect, “What’s wrong with multiple conversations at once? It’s like college or high school – we switched classes, didn’t we? We listened to different instructors, and took it all in?” Thank you for that.

  17. There’s a part of me that envies you. I’ll bet you’re very organized and not ADD at all. You probably get a lot more done than I. Embrace it. :-)

  18. The perfect place!

  19. Great input. Thanks.

  20. OK, here’s another way to get the material, movies. If you haven’t seen HBO’s John Adams, you MUST, I repeat MUST get it. It’s a 6 hour mini-series based on McCullough’s book and is a 5-star +.

  21. Definitely loved The War of Art as well as Pressfield’s Do the Work.

  22. I’ve never tracked my books. I LOVE that idea.

  23. Simply Christian is on my list

  24. I’ve often approached my professional reading like this – gleaning, hitting the high points, consulting the index for the matters I need help in, or the areas I’m most interested in. And non-fiction lays around the house, on corners and in assorted bookcases and across counters – a moment here, a chapter there. What’s wrong with multiple conversations at once? It’s like college or high school – we switched classes, didn’t we? We listened to different instructors, and took it all in?
    Why do we stop seeking to ingest it all? Why grow small due to a restricted diet? Feed the mind, feed the soul…

    I have recently taken to reading whole books of the Bible all in one go. Not the verse-by-verse of study, but the consumption-in-one-sitting of the hungry. It speaks differently when taken in all at once.

    Yet I must agree with others here; fiction is usually one by one. Immersion, like in language study, is what makes fiction work.

    Is the current list required? A partial listing from memory:
    Corrie ten Boom’s Tramp for the Lord,
    The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee,
    SEAL Team SIx by Wasdin,
    Education of a Child by Fenelon,
    God is in the Small Stuff, by Bruce & Stan,
    Webster’s unending Honor Harrington series.

  25. I seem to be in the minority here, but I like to start one and read it through because my mind gets engaged with that line of thought and all else seems to be an interruption. I just finished Sara Paretsky’s Hardball last evening–it was my 4th of July weekend treat. I have The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron on my shelf to start next, and Peterson’s on the parable & prayers of Jesus which I am reading for my bookclub, but even those I like to read non-stop. I enjoyed this blog and the comments and seeing everyone’s book list.

  26. I always have several books going at the same time and there are many I don’t finish. And I’m so glad you mentioned reading in the tub (hot or bath or jacuzzi) because that is my very favorite place to read. A nice hot soak, with bubbles and a good book, seems to wash away so much more than daily grime. It’s more like prayer to me, as it soothes and heals me, tempers my outrage, mends my tattered feelings, and smooths my rough edges. It doesn’t matter what’s in the book, or even a magazine, it’s just the act of reading in that pool of sweet smelling warmth that so comforts me. So glad to know that others share this wonderful practice!

  27. I’m here from Ann’s link. It’s neat how different personalities read and I enjoyed reading your post and several of the comments. I rarely have more than 3 books going at a time. I sometimes have one I read a chapter or portion of in conjunction with my devotional time. And I almost always have a novel going. But unless it is a biography, nonfiction, for me, requires focus if I am going to “get” what the author is saying. I like reading the whole book straight through so I can absorb it in context and in the flow of the author’s thinking. Maybe that’s why I don’t read as much non-fiction as I should, lol! The only time I would just read parts of books is if I am looking something up for reference.

    I just finished missionary classic Goforth of China and am almost finished with novel No Distance Too Far by Lauraine Snelling. I’m also going through a little booklet titles Gospel Meditations For Women by Chris Anderson and Joe Tyrpak.

  28. Jennifer

    I thought I would try to read David Mccullough’s biography of John Adams. I thought it was Patriotic.

  29. Cynthia , I’ve been tracking my books for a couple of years. It is really interesting to see where you’ve been in reading isn’t it?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] How Many Books Are You Reading? I tend to have only two at most going. With nonfiction, especially, I feel the need to concentrate more to get what the author is saying as well as the flow of it. If I just read things in snatches (except for reference), I have all these disconnected bits floating in my head. But this post helped me understand the mindset of somewhat who is dipping into multiple books at a time. Neither reading personality is right or wrong — just read, however you do it. […]

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    […] Last night, as Mike and I were going to bed, I read to him from a book I had just started. It was a book on marriage. It was debunking traditional advice given to people who desire to have a better marriage. Then this morning I read to him something I had read about Nihilism. It interested me because it applied to a problem a friend of ours was struggling with. He said to me, "I thought you were reading the book about marriage." "I am," I respond … Read More […]

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