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Is reading 5 Books at once crazy?

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Is there any other way? Yes of course, but this is about reading 5 books (at least) at once.

Serendipitously – themes and coincidences link these many different stories read separately together. The edges between them become blurred. In my story mind, Margaret Atwood’s dollhouse from The Testaments has been superimposed on the burnt dollhouse in Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea.

Bereft after finishing Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, I listened to Amanda Thompson’s Belonging (about natural history, identity and home). Thanks Borrowbox and the Irish library service! Amanda quotes Rebecca Solnit whose perspectives on hope and loss I recently discovered and loved in a ‘Field guide to Getting Lost’. I’d discovered Rebecca in my pursuit to understand ‘hope’ better, and I’d listened to Amanda’s book because which migrant isn’t interested in belonging? Somehow between Amanda’s beautiful interaction with a snag (a standing dead tree) that is feeding the future forest and how what is gone or missing is what feeds Rebecca’s understanding of hope, just lined up – like stars.

The authors cannot know which other writers you read their books alongside and into what chapter of your life their stories might fall. But any book is contextualised by these other actors, the winter weather, your inner weather, the life-stories they are inserted amongst.

I pick out words and phrases and sometimes, greedily, whole paragraphs because they move me, or transport me, or seduce me. I underline them in pencil, and reckless pen, in the books I own. These scratchings signpost what I loved. Crumbs revealing what moved me and provoked me, if you dare to read them yourself. On my Kindle app I highlight them. Sometimes I see that others are similarly moved, and sometimes it feels that it is just me who is moved by an image or a phrase.

Read the best ones again? This can be a dangerous game. Reading what you loved before can show you that what you love and are moved by changes, and that you change. Or not. It can provide a shelter, a retreat, a solace. I think that sometimes we want what we love to act as an anchor point or a road marking that holds us on course or shows us where to go when times are tough.

Why read? Fastest armchair travel in the world. Cheapest too. A view from a biography’s window or balcony that is most intimate of another’s heartache or triumph (so often over themselves). To escape. To reconnect. To discover. To let go. Because you have to. Because you don’t have to. Reading admits any reason and no reason. Because. Because the dedication is so moving, you are intrigued. Even if it turns out to be the best bit in the book. Reading helps us build empathy skills. Reading helps us perceive more accurately the impact of one character on another, and us on the world.

Why be read to? Be read to because you can take the book on a road trip out West, on the walk along the beach, on through the days when life seems the same, but it isn’t. Be read to because that is love. Unless your reader is learning to read. Hold on, that’s love too. Just in the other direction. Being read to is love because someone else offers you up the words in a way that frees your eyes and hands to walk around in the story and play in it.

Learning to read for me was one of the greatest freedoms and comforts of my life. Walking up to the library solo or with my young sisters to take out the maximum of 5 (obviously!) books over the school holidays was an activity that was accessory to the autonomy reading offered. This says that I learned to read in the before internet era. Can we even remember such a time?

Migration meant gifting, selling and handing on boxes upon boxes of books. That wrestling was an experience of joy, sorrow, loss, grief and growth. Each book was weighed and measured. Pieces of my intellectual and emotional armour were discarded, packed away, shipped off, hidden.

If you only keep the books you’ll definitely read again, which authors and books would you keep? Which ones say something about your life and your identity? Why is an author, a story or a character so compelling? If someone else should read a book that explains a part of you – which book would you prescribe? If you look back on all you have loved and been moved by in books, what does it reveal to you about your won story?

What do I read and how do I prioritise it? I read literary fiction, which I only discovered recently was a category. It makes the ordinary poetic and renders what is raw, authentic. Although I was late to the genre, I read fantasy for the dream quotient and to set me up for a good night’s sleep. These books drop secret characters and elements of magical realism into my thought stream. They wander around inside my mind and stay with me for days or forever.

It doesn’t have to be demanding reading. I read the young adult fiction too. I’m amazed at what’s put out for that audience and how honest, brave, beautiful and inspiring it is. I feel like I’m backfilling my own youth.

I read esoteric and spiritual books too. Widely. Into this category I’d throw some of the mystic and poetic works of David Whyte and John O’Donohue. These works have proven to be an unexpected and relentless balm on days where my spirits flag, self-belief wanes and perspective shrivels. This category is unexpected for me because at school (yes, forever ago) I didn’t really get the poetry, and I still don’t really get Shakespeare.

I read for work. Which is more like play and enrichment these days. This includes coaching related books on self-discovery, healing, addiction, change, habits, emotions, flow and play. At the moment. Often the books are thematically connected – say about emotional resilience – and then, serendipitously so too are clients and their challenges.

I read biography because aren’t people wonderful and brave and broken in all the most human ways?

The lagging 5th category holds e-anything that falls between the lines of the other categories. Something of the side projects, the still small dreams, like writing, bonsai or ikebana perhaps. And then, on the bravest and best days I write.

What, if anything, would your bookshelf contain?

I would recognise my bookshelf anywhere. And I would recognise my tribe, my people, from theirs. I have collected mine throughout my life. It holds the magical realism of Africa in Ben Okri and

It holds the female voices Alice Munro, Toni Morrison and Hilary Mantel. It holds the works of the near recluse Cormac McCarthy. It holds most of Iris Murdoch, Haruki Murakami and Patrick Ness. Ireland brought in Maggie O’ Farrell, Anne Enright and others. But for now, that’s plenty isn’t it?

Is your bookshelf a device? Does it drop you into the current page of … which book? I’ll give you a minute to think of the title and author …

Or are you a serial monogamous reader? Just one at a time? Good for you.

What book would you take to the desert island where you are stranded, alone, for an impossible length of time?

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lorraine Scanlen

    You read 5 Books at once.. BEST I can do is 2….
    YOU are remarkable and your hunger for knowledge is evident in your Blog.
    Please write your own book.
    Your writing is beautiful.

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