Monday, October 27, 2008

Do you read more than one book at once?

This was a question posed to me by my blogging friend Gustav a few week’s back.

In thinking about it, it’s raised some interesting questions about the way in which we absorb narrative in its different forms.

I always have more than one book on the go at any time – but never more than one piece of fiction.

I’ll often have three of four books on the bedside table that may be about history, religion, or other non-fiction (and not all as high brow as that statement may make it sound!).

But I rarely attempt to read two novels at once. (Occasionally, a high-demand novel may become available on short loan from the library, and I’ll set aside whatever novel I’m reading at that moment so I can return the library book on time. But I always set it aside - I don’t try and read both at once.)

For me, it’s always been an issue of not having my head in two narrative spaces at once.

Which got me thinking: isn’t that what I do when I watch more than one television series in the same season? Or following stories in more than comic series?

Films are slightly different because we watch them in a single sitting, (unless you’re a pay TV “flicker”, of course, then you might watch it in three instalments, and not necessarily chronological!), experiencing the entire narrative before moving on to the next story.

I seem to manage quite well keeping track of story arcs and characters across these more visual mediums.

Is it because an episode of a television series or an edition of a comic has its own smaller story arc, with a natural place for a break at the end? Even a cliff hanger ending makes a clean break from one episode to another.

For me, the same rules just don’t seem to apply to novels. Is it because with a novel, the story takes up so much more of my imagination, and when I fill up that space with too many stories requiring my emotional and imaginative capacity, it becomes too messy?

Does the visual nature of television and comics make it easier for me to keep the stories separate?

So, my question this week is: do you read more than one novel at a time? And if so, do you find it easy to keep the stories straight?


Anonymous said...

Definitely one at a time for me - usually if I like it enough to keep reading, I like enough that I'm not going to stop for anything else. I've never had trouble keeping lots of different television stories from getting mixed up which, now that you bring it up, is interesting...

I find TV series a lot easier to keep track of than novels too, and I think it being visual is the main reason, followed by the fact that it comes in much shorter chunks. Then there's Battlestar Galactica with its huge 'previously on...' spiel every episode (not that I'm complaining - I need it for that one!).

Carla Sonheim said...

Fiction - oh my goodness, no, one at a time for me, too! Non-fiction I do flip back and forth...

I'm wondering if it's a plot thing that keeps me on track with fiction.

As a family we're watching the Sci-Fi series Farscape in an unusual way... we're getting Season 2 from Netflix (four episodes monthly) and are downloading episodes from Seasons 1 and 4 occasionally from itunes... we started with Season 4 and then realized in the middle we might want to start at Season 1, so now we're watching both!!! So... the story is jumping around.

I'm enjoying it of course but it is a bit disjointed. But what's started is started!!!

Charley said...

I occasionally read multiple books, but I try to only have one main book going at a time. For example, I'm currently reading The Road as my main book, but before bed I read The Calder Game for something lighter.

BooksPlease said...

I'm unable to restrict myself to reading one book at a time and usually have several on the go at once. I don't get them mixed up as I pick different types of books. At the moment I'm only reading two books because I've just finished two others. I'm in the middle of Les Miserables and Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge (non fiction), and am wondering what to read next.

Watching TV series etc is a good comparison and I do the same with books - I read one in the morning and one at night and slot the others in at different times - much like watching the TV.

Daniel said...

Maximum of two for me.
And, because someone earlier mentioned TV shows: I have eight going at the moment in my mind.
Supernatural, Heroes, Brothers and Sisters, Ugly Betty, Greys Anatomy, Californication, Weeds, Battlestar...give or take one or two I guess.

Gustav said...

What an interesting range of comments.

Yes, like booksplease I too am unable to restrict myself to one book at a time. In fact which book I read is dependent on my mood and the time of day.

My before going to bed books usually entail an element of romance or are even on the erotic side. Currently I have Henry & June next to the bed which is from the unexpurgated diary of Anais Nin.

When having a bath I love travel, adventure, and philosophy books. Near the bath I have 5 books including Who's Who in Mythology, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Travel Writing for Profit and Pleasure.

When I take the bus to and from the city for work I only read one book at a time and it is usually a book that requires my full attention which is currently Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song.

Finally during the day while on the couch or at the beach I have easy reading books nearby including poetry, art and short stories. Walt Whitman is always nearby along with The World of Cezanne.

Your analogy with with television series is interesting and relevant. My own view is that the stimulus I seek from stories and art is dependent on my mood and energy level. Hence different books for different moods.

Salty Letters said...

Indeed I do.
Was reading a story from a writer who writes about the death of his wife ( Kluun, 'Komt een vrouw bij de dokter 'sorry in Dutch ) and also a book of a youg girl who lost her man from CF ( lung disease ) . Both stories about dying people, both very sad but breathtakingly written. And it was not a problem to read these stories at the same time. It was an eyeopener how different people deal with death.

Paula Weston said...

Thanks everyone for your interesting commets.

Jennifer - I agree that "previously on" segments definitely help with keeping track of TV stories. Especially when a new season starts.

Carla - that's an interesting way to watch a series! Did you know Farscape was made in Australia? (Not that it's relevant, but we have so few shows that make it to the US market...)

Charley, Books Please and Gustav - I like your idea of reading different books at particular times of hte day. Makes good sense.

Daniel - good series choices. I must confess I've become quite addicted to Supernatural over the last couple of seasons. I love the episodes with the character-based humour, and they're building the show's mythology really well.

Salty Letters - lovely to hear from you again! And interesting to read similar books at the same time. I imagine you were looking for some light relief after those two?