9 Things I Learned From Reading 45 Books At Once
I have no idea what a normal reader is, or even if such a thing exists. My guess is a normal reader is someone who grabs a book and reads it until the last page has been turned. Then, that person grabs another one and repeats the process. I've never done that. Even in my ealry teens, I always had at least three books going—usually a novel, a poetry book, and a short story collection, but many times it was three novels at once.
As years went by, that number increased. By 2009, I was reviewing books professionally, so I was always reading 4-8 books at a time, and I loved it. I fell in love with reviewing, increased the number of venues I reviewed for, and kept on reading for pleasure. Eventually, I turned into the kind of person that always has half-read books in the kitchen, the car, the living room, the bathroom, on the sofa, the desk, in my backpack...you get the point. To make matters worse, I started receiving a lot of digital ARCs, and I started reading those in PDF format on my phone while stuck in traffic or waiting in line at the grocery store.
I never kept track of any of them. Then I started using Goodreads, and after two years or so, I got curious. At one point in 2017, I was reading 45 books simultaneoulsy. Now imagine a montage of me reading peer reviewed journal articles about reading (play Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" if you must, but I think Joe Bonamassa's "Burning Hell" is more fitting). Turns out reading helps you fight Alzheimer's, keeps your brain functioning as it should, increses intelligence, and helps you keep your memory sharper for longer. In fact, studies have shown that reading, especially when reading more than one narrative at a time, forces your to work your brain out, which in turn leads to lower mental decline. In short: reading is good for you. The more you do it, the more benefits you get from it.
Believe it or not, none of that has anything to do with my reasons for reading a plethora of books at the same time. No, I do it because I love it. I do it because books and music have been the only constant in my life. I do it because I don't watch any TV shows and I'm not in the mood for movies half the time. I do it because I can do it anywhere. I do it because I have many talented friends who keep my pile taller than most people and because spreading the word about great books via reviews and interviews is something I truly enjoy and consider important. In any case, here are some things I learned while reading 45 books at once. I hope some of them convince you to increase the number of books you're currently reading.
Matching your reading to your mood is great
Yes, I'm almost always in the mood for tacos, but sometimes I think "I'd eat enough Chinese food right now to kill a small human." Sometimes I want some jazz, but sometimes I work for days while listening only to blues or atmospheric black metal or flamenco or whatever. The point is that music and books are the two things that most affect/complement/support/engage with my current mood, and having a bunch of different books to chose from means that I never have to read something I'm not in the mood for. One day you can read about gruesome shit and the next you can dig into a poetry book. Variety, baby. That's where it's at.
It's easier to jump out of your comfort zone
When you're reading six pulpy novels, it's easier to grab a fantasy novel. You have a support system in place. Your friends are there in case you get too uncomfortable and want to run back into their arms for a while. They'll hold you. It's okay. Seriously, grabbing something you wouldn't normally read and making it your only current read is hard to do. However, if that book is just one of a dozen, you don't feel the same pressure.
Some books dictate reading speed, and the same speed all the time is boring
I've powered through big books in a day. I have also worked my way through 180-page novels for weeks. Some books demand to be devoured, but some force you to read, stop, think, and start reading again. Also, I love reading a good poem and putting the book down. One solid poem. That's it. A morsel. A treat. I let it play inside my skull for a bit. Mixing all these rhythms at once is great because it keeps you from getting bored. Nothing loses its freshness if you come back to it willingly every time.
Holding different narratives in your head is like bootcamp for your brain
Bill Minutaglio, one of the best nonfiction writers in this country, once told me "You have a fucking dangerous memory." I'm 100% sure it got that way by constantly holding a multiplicity of narratives and characters at once. I'm currently reading Emily Arsenault's The Last Thing I Told You and James A. McLaughlin's Bearskin for Criminal Element; Gale Massey's The Girl from Blind River, Paul Tremblay's The Cabin at the End of the World, and Jennifer Hillier's Jar of Hearts for PANK Magazine; Patrick Camoiseau's Slave Old Man and Melissa Broder's The Pisces for Volume 1 Brooklyn; and a few others for Crimespress Magazine, Ink Heist, and HorrorTalk. Here's the thing: one of the main character in Arsenault's book is named Nadine Raines, and her insurance number, which appears in every report from her psychiatrist, is 4709916. My brain works like that now. I just wish it did the same with birthdays...
It's cheaper than treavelling and as good as any TV show
I go places every day while I read. It keeps me from going crazy while I get enough money together to go someplace. That's not a joke. Also, I never got into series, so picking up a book is my go-to thing at night or whenever I have a minute to spare. I can take a book to the river, on the bus, to an office...you get the point.
Reading different voices improves your own writing
One time a dozen people wanted to kill me on Twitter because I said that writers who didn't have time to read could fuck off. You know what? I'm doubling down on that. Besides supporting others and making you smarter, reading makes your writing better. It exposes you to different voices, techniques, rhythms, approaches, ideas, etc. It helps you out when you're stuck. It inspires you and motivates you and feeds the fire in your belly. I stand by that. Come at me.
You get through the reading pile faster
You read a few chapters. You're into it. Then something happens. Interest declines a bit. That's okay. Grab something else. Something new and fresh and exciting. Read from that. Go back to that other book later. If you try to get through it when you're not feeling it...let's just say it can start to feel like homework. The more you read at once, the quicker you will get through books (yes, even when reading carefully and taking notes for the review).
It helps you adapt to genres and digest what you've read
One poem at a time is something I already mentioned. Now I'm talking about short stories. I love reading one and being done. I let that story simmer. I think about it. Then I go back to that collection and read another one. This is how I've always read short story collections, and I think it helps each story shine (or fail!) all by itself. Try it out.
More is not always better, but in this case it is
More books. More reading. More experiences. More genres. More words. More mental trips. More authors. More voices. More diversity. All of those are good things. Sure, you'll spend more money on books, but you're not bullshitting anyone here; you were going to do that anyway and just add them to the pile, so read more.
Okay, so maybe 45 books, or 20 books, is too much for most people. Maybe you like to have your books in one room. Maybe your Kindle is already full. Whatever. Just give it a try. Add one or three books to your reading today and you'll get hooked on it immediately. Now sound off below and tell me what you're reading and why I should add it to my pile.
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