My bookshelves – and there are many of them, in my homes in France, Ireland and Kent – are filled with all kinds of books. I have no idea how many books there are, but certainly the number is growing by the month. I find it very difficult to walk past a bookstore without entering and buying books. Often those books are gifts for others; I especially like to buy books for my grandchildren. But invariably one or two books on the stack have caught my eye – a new recipe book, a history of a local castle, a romance novel.
In each of my homes, all but one of the shelves contain books I have read at least once, and these books are organised by genre. The other shelf contains a higgledy-piggledy mix of books in different genres: my ‘TBR pile’ in book-blogging speak (To Be Read). Usually, there will be ten or so books on that shelf; sometimes twenty, after Christmas, for example; occasionally, because I am a fast reader, just three or four. But there will always be some books, because reading is such a source of pleasure and solace for me.
That TBR shelf is well-stocked then, but it is not a shelf you will find me visiting between reads. I select a book; I read that book; I shelve it among my collection – and so on and so on, ad infinitum. For me, that is how to read, one book at a time. It seems I’m not alone.
Recently, a ‘book bragging’ row erupted in the UK when author Will Self told the Guardian newspaper: ‘I read as many as 50 [books] at once, if you mean by “currently reading” books I’ve begun, left off, and returned to.’ According to the Telegraph, this declaration didn’t go down too well with some fellow authors, who saw Self’s reading style as ‘disrespectful’. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: ‘I love reading – but I’d gently suggest that anyone who claims to be reading 50 books at the same time isn’t really reading any of them at all.’
However, a Google search for ‘Should we read one book at a time?’ shows that plenty of readers do enjoy reading several books simultaneously. An article published by Bustle lists benefits of doing so, from reading more quickly to balancing emotional reads with more light-hearted ones. I especially like the idea of ‘literary synergy’ posed by this article: that through simultaneous reading you can find connections between unrelated books.
Still, I don’t think I will change the habit of a lifetime. I will continue to give my full focus to one book before moving on to another.
What do you think? Do you read book by book? Do you have a TBR shelf? Or do you have a ‘current reads’ shelf that is regularly visited? How many book worlds do you inhabit at any one time? I would love to hear your thoughts.