Literary Multi-Tasking: Can you juggle the plots?

Last Friday was cool, rainy, and overcast; it was my favorite face of autumn and the perfect weather for coffee and literature. So obviously I took a trip to one of my favorite places: Capitol Hill Books.


On this little day trip, I found several new books to add to my ever growing collection. Here’s the list:

Clearly, it was a very successful trip. Unfortunately, I already had Lena Dunham’s Not that Kind of Girl and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places patiently waiting at home for me.

So what’s a girl to do? I wanted to read all these books at once. They all looked so fascinating and eager, with their striking covers and dazzling reviews beaming up at me, their leaves just begging to be opened and absorbed.

Then I realized that I encounter this dilemma more often than I’d like to admit. With the feeling of “so many books, so little time” weighing heavily on my shoulders, I pondered the situation. How would I choose my next read? Should I pledge allegiance to the books I’d bought first or should I indulge my impulses and crack open the latest and greatest (reading is supposed to be fun, right?).books

If you are anything like me, you buy and borrow books faster than you can consume them and your reading list grows daily. You might be overwhelmed with the fear of never reaching the bottom of your stack, intimidated by your own intellectual curiosity. You scan the web for new booklists often: best books by Latino authors in America, Ernest Hemingway’s recommendations, Marilyn Monroe’s expansive library, the recently released list of National Book Award finalists, and on top of that, you’re always asking friends for their favorites too (judging them ever so slightly if Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye make the cut). You might even frequent book shops on a regular basis.

So how can one remedy this problem?


…Because clearly there’s no way you’ll ever alter your literary accumulation routine.

Some people are adept at reading multiple books at once. And when I say multiple books I mean multiple dense novels with twisty plots (some are required to do so for their job or for school, aren’t they living the life?).

I am not one of those people. I have tried and failed many times to read several books at once and when I say I failed, I mean I failed to finish any of the books I’d started at the same time. However, I’ve been developing some new tactics to help solve this literary struggle.

Different types of writing for different times of day.

Lately I’ve been reading an essay anthology or short story collection along side a novel or more involved non-fiction text. Reading through a poetry selection at the same time as a novel also seems to work. Instead of reading competing texts and grappling with the details of two disparate plotlines,  I try to keep something with shorter passages that I can pick up and read in one sitting handy. This way I can multi task while staying organized and aware of what’s happening in the texts I’m reading.

harrison ford reads
Harrison Ford reading

Just stick to the news.

Maybe you like to read several books at one time because you hit a rut when reading a longer piece of fiction or non-fiction. When you take your break from the density of your novel, you still crave the wordy experience of literary adventuring. In this case, reading news articles or online essays might be a good choice for you just to change your pace. Articles aren’t as big a commitment as an anthology but can break up your reading experience. It’s a similar tactic to the first but better for people who are not weird, like me, and do not have crazy book lists.

Or you can just go all in. 

Just GO FOR IT. Indulge. Go crazy. Start four books at once. Then, see which one sticks. This is something I do all the time. When I can’t decide I just don’t. I see which book I am dying to open and devour after I’ve read a few chapters of each. Whichever one I find myself sucked into the fastest I normally ravage and then get back to the others later.

Do you have any tactics of your own? How do you juggle all the books you want to read?

angelica huston reads
Angelica Huston reading

For now, here’s a bookish bonus: Awesome People Reading

Until next time…




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