Yesterday’s post prompted lots of questions about whether I was really reading all those books I have listed as “In Progress.” Instead of answering in the comments I thought I’d answer in a post because there always seems to be two kinds of readers, those who read multiple books at a time and those who read one book at a time. Several months ago there was a great essay in the Sunday NY Times by someone who read even more books at once than I do. I can’t remember the essayist’s name and my searches on Google and at the Times were too broad to be productive. Maybe one of you remember it and can point me in the right direction?

Anyway, yes, I am reading all those books. Now before all you single book readers panic, take a deep breath, because I am going to reveal to you the secrets of people who read multiple books. I can’t say that all of us follow all these practices all the time, and some may have a secret I have yet to discover, so perhaps I should say, I am going to reveal to you my secrets for reading multiple books.

Danielle and I seem to have similar methods to our madness. She is much more transparent with her multiple book reading than I am. She talks about the books she is allowing to languish like she did yesterday. I rarely mention the languishing books except when I pick them up again in which case they are no longer languishing. Allowing books I’ve begun to sit unattended to for days or weeks or months, is my number one method for reading more than one book at a time. For instance, I began reading Clarissa in November 2005. I read along pretty steadily for awhile, but it is such a big book in which nothing happens for pages and pages to finally have something happen and then hundreds of pages are spent on dissecting what happened before something else happens. So I put the book aside for a few weeks. Picked it back up, read 20 pages, then put it back down and let it rest for another several weeks and continue on in this manner.

There are also the books I only read at certain times. For instance, I only read Emerson on the weekends, usually Saturdays. I only read Virginia Woolf’s diary when I have 15-20 minutes before bed that are asking to be filled with a book.

You may be wondering how I can possibly keep track of what is going on between all the books and what was happening when I left off and let a book rest for awhile. It is not as hard as you think it is. You probably watch a few different shows on television, right? Do you ever get the plotlines or characters mixed up, thinking, for example, Character X is a doctor on Gray’s Anatomy when really she is a doctor on House? Chances are you don’t. It is the same thing with the books. Achilles and Lovelace would be pretty hard to mix up, as would mistaking a story from The Street of Crocodiles with a story by Virginia Woolf. As for time between reading sessions, it’s like season breaks without re-runs. And if I should forget, books are pretty good at reminding you about things as they go along. I also take notes if the book is nonfiction and keep track of important passages for fiction.

That’s it. Those are my secrets. My husband reads several books at a time but he tends to follow a geographical method. He listens to a book in the car, carries a book with him for lunch breaks or standing in line, keeps a book in the bathroom, and a couple next to the bed that sometimes take trips to the living room or the kitchen table.

I am very much a mood reader and will usually spend time with at least two books every evening. Last night I listened to The Iliad for an hour and then got a brain workout with Fabric of the Cosmos. Most of the time I don’t really know what book I will pick up until I sit down to read.

All this may seem strange to those who read one book at a time. There was an era of my life in which I had only one book in progress. I found, however, that if I was not enjoying the book it became a slog and I would rush through so I could get on to something else. With multiple books, if I get tired of one book, like Clarissa, but am still enjoying it and want to continue reading it, I can set it aside for a bit, read something else and come back refreshed. It all works out quite nicely.