reading habits

Frank Denton, a long-time friend who lives in Seattle, once told me about the way he reads, and I remember thinking “that seems pretty odd, but whatever works…”.

Frank is always reading several books at once, usually each a different genre or type, but sometimes related in some way, such as fiction and non-fiction concerning the same subject. He reads one book for a while in the morning, a different one for an hour or two in the afternoon, another in the evening and so on. When you ask Frank what he’s reading you get some pretty interesting answers. Often he’ll tell you what he’s reading, and why he’s reading it and what other books led him to the ones he’s working on at the moment.

When I asked him a few days ago, here’s what he said:

“Here’s what I’m reading at the moment.  Morning: Dancing in the Dark by Morris Dickstein, a cultural history of the Depression.  Six pages at a time: Clark Ashton Smith, that’s about all I can take at one sitting.  Evening: just finished a mystery by Bernard Knight set in 1195 in Exeter, England; tonight I will start on Barbara Hambly’s Ben January novel set in the slave period New Orleans; Toulouse-Lautrec by Julia Frey, a biography; Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, a YA fantasy; The Way of Korean Zen by Kusan Sunim.  Pretty eclectic, huh?

I was thinking about that just a day or two ago when I realized I had four or five books all with bookmarks in them, and that I was alternating between them throughout the day, evening and during the week. Shades of Frank Denton! I thought. Suddenly it made sense. I’m enjoying all of the books, no two of them are alike, one is a biography, one a fantasy, another is a SF short story collection and the last is a mystery novel. I’m in the mood for each of these, but not enough to read any of them straight through, or perhaps it’s that I’m in the mood to read ALL of them and don’t want to wait for one or two other books before I dig in.

I’ve always been a read-it-straight-through person, but the last year or so I’ve had more and more books sitting with bookmarks in them, and this seems to be the way my reading habits have evolved, at least for now.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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18 Responses to reading habits

  1. I’m somewhat similar and have had occasion to have several books going at one time. I seldom read a short story collection straight through, preferring to sprinkle stories between books. I’m not sure that will qualify as reading more than one book at a time.

    I have no set length or time to spend on any one tale either, but will read for awhile, then pick up another. I may stick with one for all the reading I do in a day, then go to another the next.

  2. Richard says:

    We all have our methods, it seems. Perhaps it’s a good thing I’m loosening up from my strict read one at a time policy.

  3. william says:

    I’ll give this a try. Always been a one book at a time person. Wonder if you recall as much of one book when you’re also reading another, especially if they are of the same genre or sub-genre.

  4. Richard says:

    That’s a good question for which I have no answer. It is possible to get mixed up – which is which? – for a moment when opening the books, but that happens rarely. Of course these days, if I have to rely on my memory for much I may be in trouble…

  5. Jeff Meyerson says:

    As you know, Rick, I also read several books at a time, but I’d find Frank’s method way too confusing.

    Generally I read one or two short story collections, on an issue of EQMM, plus – generally – one mystery (or other novel) plus maybe one (or possibly two) non fiction books.

    But reading two or more novels at once; probably not.

    Currently I’m reading stories by Mack Reynolds (almost done with THE BEST OF…), just finished a collection by Dan Chaon, and I need to start two more Crippen & Landru collections to review. Also I have James Baldwin’s GOING TO MEET THE MAN from the library.

    I’m having a little trouble getting started on a novel. I’ve tried 3-4 but can’t quite settle on one. Choices (authors) include Dan Chaon, John Lescroat (a reprint of his first novel, SUNBURN), Nick Brownlee’s BAIT and a couple of YA titles.

    Non fiction? There’s DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC, Douglas Preston’s book about working at the Museum of Natural History, and the intriguingly titled THE CHILD THAT BOOKS BUILT by Francis Spufford, subtitled “A Life in Reading.”

    And then there is DAPA-EM… .

  6. Richard says:

    DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC is a good one, Jeff, I read it a few years back. The other sounds good too, anything about the influence of books piques my interest. My problem is that I have way too many things I’m dying to get going, and there are other books “in the way”, though they are also good ones I’m enjoying but not quite enough to plow straight through.

  7. Richard says:

    Yes, and then there is DAPA-Em. I think I’ve rad about half of it, marking with the highlighter as I go, which is my method. Always lots of good stuff there. I have a hunch APAs are a dying breed, and DAPA’s time has nearly come.

  8. Cap'n Bob says:

    I usually have one at work and one at my bedside. That’s about all I can handle. Frank’s habit of reading six pages before setting a book aside would drive me crazy. I’d have to at least finish a chapter, and if the chapter was six pages I’d shoot for two chapters.

  9. Richard says:

    Six pages is a bit short, but we all have our ways. My wife hates to stop reading before the end of a chapter, and will soldier on no matter how sleepy she is or late it gets. The flip side is she often checks to see how long the next chapter is before starting it.

  10. I used to try finishing a chapter no matter how sleepy I got. I’d doze off, then wake up and try to find my place. It was very confusing because I figured out when I dropped off, I was making up, dreaming?, my own story from that point.

    Does that happen to anyone else?

  11. Patti Abbott says:

    If I read more than one, it’s just two and the second is non-fiction.

  12. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I do admit to preferring short chapters too. When I see a book has 25 page chapters it’s one mark against it for me.

  13. Carl V. says:

    When I was a kid I was all about reading one book at a time, straight through. As an adult I realized that I rather unconsciously started the habit of having several books going at once. I purposefully tried to get away from that a few years ago and did okay for about 6 months before my natural tendencies took over.

    Now generally I have several books going at one time (right now I’m reading Persuasion by Jane Austen, a Charles de Lint short story collection, a Steven Millhauser short story collection, and the newest mystery by Alan Bradley), but I don’t generally read a little of one each day and then a little of another. What I do often find myself doing is taking a library book to work and reading it in my truck at the park over lunch break while I might be reading something else when I am at home.

    It is my whims that cause me to read so many books at one time. I got caught up in the latest film version of Persuasion the other day and just had to run out and buy the book and start reading it. So everything else has been laid aside, at the moment, while I revel in Austen.

  14. Carl V. says:

    I had to laugh, after posting this I’ve realized that I am also in the middle of reading The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. I’ll probably think of more I have going after I post this. Ha!

  15. Richard says:

    That Fadiman book is pretty entertaining, as I recall. You DO have a lot going, Carl. Say, I thought you finished the Steven Millhauser, or was that the “novel” one?

  16. Carl V. says:

    I finished the novella and liked it so much that I picked up a short story collection from the library.

  17. Richard R. says:

    Ah, that’s right, now I recall. I have the novella on the way.

    Just got two SF short story collections by Theodore Cogswell. Man, are you gonna love the covers!

  18. Carl V. says:

    Can’t wait to see them!

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