Polygamous Reading

In today’s guest post, R.G. McKay Ireland talks about his reading habits and why one book just isn’t enough.

I do it slow, often in bed, and with more than one on the go at any given time. Of course, I’m talking about reading books.

Everyone reads differently – that much has become apparent to me. Some can plough through an epic trilogy in the time it took me to read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  For me, reading has always been slow. I’d like to say it’s because I want to savour every word and excavate the deepest of thematic nuances and metaphor from a novel; or try to absorb every factual detail of a non-fiction book. But I’d be lying. I read slowly because it’s as fast as I can go and still coherently understand and enjoy what I’m reading.

But it’s not just how fast we read books that differs between us. One thing I’ve seen change in myself is how many books I read at any given time. When it came to books, I used to be a serial monogamist. I read one book, and one alone, until it had run its course or the relationship soured enough through boredom that I’d give up on it and look for another suitor. More recently, however, I’ve changed my approach, and I now read more than one book at a time, and I think I’m better for it. These are the three books I’m currently reading…

Books photo for blog post - polygamous reading

New Scientist – Nothing

Gene Wolfe – The Book Of The New Sun; Volume 1: Shadow and Claw

In Harm’s Way – Sean Hogan with Michael Cameron


…And here’s why I’m reading three books at once:

I read more
I like to read different categories and genres of books. For example, I’ll always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book on the go. It means I can read what suits my mood, and there’s less chance of ‘reading block’. I read more books this way. It prevents boredom and reduces the chances of abandoning a good book that on a particular day isn’t doing it for me. Or deciding not to read at all when I’m tired and the thought of picking up Gene Wolfe’s 600 page, first volume whopper on my bedside table is a tiring thought in itself

It makes me better
The benefit of continually reading different styles of writing will make you a better reader, a better writer, and a more knowledgeable and interesting person.

It helps when I’m writing
As a writer, it allows me to read non-fiction and have a break from novels, short stories, or poetry, when I’ve been spending most of the day writing my own.

It keeps me sane
Reading is an emotional experience. In Harm’s Way, for example, is a harrowing true story of the sexual abuse a young child suffered in Ireland. It’s an incredible story, and I’m finding reading it extremely emotional. Having other books as respite from it will not only help me finish it, but keep me sane while I do so.

Some may argue that by reading more than one book you’ll spread yourself too thin and not be able to follow a story as well as you could if you focused on just one. I’ve found that as long as I touch base with each book regularly this isn’t a problem, which is why, for me, three books seems to be ideal. Also, even for the monogamous book reader, think of all the newspapers, web articles, work documents, and magazines you’ll read from day to day – I don’t see reading overload as a problem.

Now I’m not saying that I divvy up my reading time neatly. If I love a book, and I’m into it, you better believe I’ll be using every spare minute I have to read it. But it’s always nice to have options. After all, what’s that platitude, variety is the spice of life? Yes, I’ll always have more than one on the go.

R.G. McKay Ireland is the author of Remnants and Drive from our Lit Bits series of short stories. You can find him on Twitter or on his website.


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