Monday, August 07, 2006

BOOKS: Just Call It Literary Constipation

I can't not read anything by The New York Times' Joe Queenan. I have a powerful affection for the man, perhaps because he so often writes about matters close to my own heart. Such as his most recent column in the Sunday Book Review, "Why I Can't Stop Starting Books":
Most of my female friends read one or two books at a time; my male friends insist that they are always reading at least one, though I suspect this figure may be aspirational. But I am never reading fewer than 25 books. I am not talking about books I have delved into, perused and set aside, like Finnegans Wake or Pamela Anderson’s first novel — that would get me up way over a hundred. I am talking about books I am actively reading, books that are on my nightstand and are not leaving there until I am done with them. Right now, the number is 27.
I'm not quite in Queenan's league. In a quick survey of my nightstand, I've deduced that I'm currently working through only five different books. I think my problem is that I tend to gravitate toward serious, edifying, and sad books. Then, at critical moments when these get on top of me, I pick up other books, generally lighter in tone, for temporary relief. You see where things can start to get backed up -- just call it literary constipation.

So, quick... off the top of your head, how many books are you reading right now?


Anonymous said...

I used to only read one book at a time. Now I generally get up to three before I get too distracted and have to pick just one to focus on. I finished off three on Sunday though, so now I'm down to just the one I started most recently. I still prefer to read only one book. If I am reading multiple books, it generally means none of them are all that great, or they would be holding my attention better.

Anonymous said...

I tend to read one book at a time so I can stay focused. It's like the way I watch television... I can't bounce back and forth between multiple shows during the same time slot. I'm also a marathon reader... if I like a book, I'll stay up all night to finish it.

--Deb said...

I never have fewer than two or more than seven books going at once. I average out at 3 or 4. However, almost always, those books are different genres. A novel. A history book. A book on dogs, essays, writing, science . . . whatever. I almost never read more than one fiction book at a time, or more than one history book at a time.

My knitting habits are similar--one sweater, one lace project, one pair of socks, but almost never two sweaters or two different pairs of socks . . .

I guess I'm a multi-monogamist. Lots of different kinds of things at once, but I'm faithful to each type at a time . . . or, something.

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank god, I thought I was the only one. I'd say I'm reading 3 or 4 "pleasure" books at any one time, but then I'm usually supposed to be reading an additional 1 or 2 for whatever classes I'm in at the time. And class books take first priority (....theoretically), so it takes me a looooooong time to finish a book I'm reading for fun. I've been reading Brideshead Revisited for maybe... a year and a half.

Anonymous said...

One. I can only read one at a time. I do most of my reading before bed, and I don't want to have to make too many decisions right around then. I tend to have a very narrow line of focus on things I'm interested in, so if I start one, I don't quit until it's done. I'm not much of a multi-tasker.

My mother's very different, she usually has four or five books going at once. But she has more free time.

girlfiend said...

Only 3 at the moment: two baby related non-fiction and one novel.

Carrie said...

right now I am reading 3 books.

Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley
The Exquisite by XXXX
I am not Jackson Pollack by John Haskell

How are you, lady?

Anonymous said...


Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Kite Runner, The Small Bachelor, and dipping in and out of The Essential Dorothy Parker.

Maya said...

Arrrgh! Blogger ate my (earlier) comment, so I will say this: Five at a time, usually.

adventures in disaster said...

I have that horrible ability to read very, very quickly which means for a book of general length say 300-400 pages it takes me about five hours to read. I read all the way through only with bathroom and tea breaks..don't ask me why I have no idea..maybe it's having an older sister and having to share when I was a kid..?
Anyway I once read four books in one was a great day.
But it made me feel sad after. like going to a buffet and eating for nine hours..readers remorse......
I honestly wish I could just savour a bit but I have to know how the story ends.
I do have a brutal habit of discarding any book that doesn't grab me by the second chapter.
I believe books shouldn't be work, a forced march of sorts..they should be enjoyable even if they make you cry.
I cannot start another book until I finish the first....this is what growing up with a strict library policy will do to you. Thank goodness they have loosened up on the maximum # of books rules.

Marissa said...

Er, let's see. I think five?
1. The Art of Travel (Alain de Botton
2. How to travel with a salmon (Umberto Eco)
3. Titus Groan (Mervyn Peake)
4. Master and Commander (Patrick O'Brien)
5. The Good Cemetery Guide (by South African writer Consuelo Roland)
Oh, and I've been sort-of-reading The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace for about 6 months now.

Alice said...

I generally have two that I'm reading pretty steadily - my bedside book (currently "Rose In Bloom" by Louisa May Alcott) and my travel-to-work book (currently "Tempest Tost" by Robertson Davies). I also have 3-4 more that I'm jumping in and out of, as the mood strikes me.

I've read that way since I was a kid. I remember that it took me about a year to read Harriet The Spy, because it took me ages to really get into it, but I always had it on standby.

Except for my travel-to-work read which I'm careful to ration and make last more than a few trips, I'm a superfast reader, so if I'm still reading something after a few days, it usually means it hasn't really grabbed me, but I still want to finish it.

Claire said...

I tend to have three or I'm really into, one I'm halfway through, one I feel I should be reading, and something I need to read for work or hobbies. Right now it's 1. Little Children, 2. The Beauty Myth, 3. Nickel and Dimed and 4. Children and Number. Mmmm, books!

Anonymous said...

In a bizarre turn of events, I actually finished every book I was reading (7, I believe) over the weekend, so right now I am technically reading...none. At least until lunchtime, when I will start the one in my bag.

In general, I usually have 3-4 on the go -- one to carry around, one fiction and one non-fiction for at home, and one to read during commercial breaks or over breakfast (something that breaks up into pieces easily).

Rebecca said...

I've got about two on the go right now, but that's unusual. Normally, I can only do one at a time, but I might put one down, read another one, then finish the first one - I can't really focus on more than one, and I tend to get the plots and characters mixed up.

Anonymous said...

Oh, it hadn't even occurred to me to get specifically lighter books to read on the bus. I generally forget to grab the one off my nightstand and sometimes they're just too big to carry around anyway. Wow, that has just opened a whole new side project for me.

Anonymous said...

I generally have anything between 2 and 7 on the go. Finished one over the weekend, so am currently down to 3, though I'm sure that will go up again very quickly.

Booklogged said...

Interesting post and so fun to read everyone's comments. Funny how we are all different. I am currently reading 4, two are audio. I'm listening to Suite Francaise when I play games on the computer or cross-stitch or quilt. In the car I'm listening to something by J.D. Robb. In the bathroom I'm reading Hale's Enna Burning and in the living room, Gentlemen and Players. I find it's best to have different genres.

Tammy said...

Ha! I had a feeling I wasn't the only one. It's interesting: a few of you mentioned a phenomenon that happens to me every so often, when I have several books on the go and then finish them all almost simultaneously. It's a weird sensation that leaves me feeling strangely empty and depressed and not quite sure what to do next. I'd never really thought about it before now.

And Carrie, how sweet are you for checking in on me. Funny that you ask. I've been feeling weird and scattered these days, excited about some things and anxious about others, with an overarching bone-tiredness that, I guess, is the result of not having had a solid night's sleep in a year and a half. I'm used to existing on a fairly even keel, so I'm not one hundred percent thrilled about this topsy-turviness, to be honest. It'll pass eventually, blah blah blah. Thanks so much for asking. I really do appreciate it.

Wah-wah-wah. Someone get me my soother.

landismom said...

I was thinking four, but then I remembered the fifth, which is hanging out in the Bee's room:

The Stone Diaries
The Great Divide
a biography of Bayard Rustin
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel
The Amateur Marriage

Anonymous said...

Eighteen, plus two textbooks, plus the two latest issues of Nature. They're stacked up in messy piles next to my papasan chair.