Is Your Reading Relationship Monogamous?

Alison Morris - July 31, 2008

Normally the trains of my attention span travel on several simultaneous tracks, but when it comes to reading novels or lengthy non-fiction I generally have a very straightforward forcus: I will only read ONE BOOK AT A TIME.

Exceptions to this rule are books of poetry, graphic novels, and audio books. I can and do stop these midstream and go back to them again without feeling they interfere with the "other book" I’m currently reading. But woe be to any printed book written in prose form if I happen to put it down and start another book of the same type, as the odds of my ever returning to the original are painfully, unaccountably small.

I can’t tell you why this is, because I don’t actually understand it. For whatever reason, though, when it comes to reading I am a Serial Monogamist. Which I know many of you reading this are NOT!

So… what type of reader ARE you?

To get you thinking about this, I’ve listed a few of the different types of readers I’ve observed.

1. The Whimsical Polygamist: you dip in and out of multiple books at once — whichever strikes your fancy or fits your whim anytime, anyplace.

2. The Placebound Polygamist: you read multiple books simultaneously but each in its own locale — say, you’ve always got one book you’re reading at home, one you reserve for your workplace lunch break, and another that’s the sole domain of your subway ride.

3. The Noncompetitive Polygamist: at any one time you are reading one fiction book and one non-fiction book, or some similar combination of multiple books that does not involve reading two books of the same type at the same time.

Any of these fit the bill? Know of other types I haven’t listed here? Please tell!

22 thoughts on “Is Your Reading Relationship Monogamous?

  1. Sam

    I am a Serial Monogamist with Occasional Affairs of Convenience. For instance, I’m reading Inkspell right now, but today I’m going out of town and Inkspell is the polar opposite of “packing light.” So I’m taking Marc Acito’s Revenge of the Theater People instead — slim, paperback, will fit in my purse when I’m walking around Seattle. Just how I like my… er, books.

  2. Stacy DeKeyser

    I’m a PNP: a Placebound Noncompetitive Polygamist. I have a novel at my bedside, nonfiction for reading in front of the TV (my family watches lots of sports), and I keep a book on the writing craft in my car for when I’m waiting to pick up kids. And when I go on vacation I always bring a new novel, even if I haven’t finished the bedside novel.

  3. Julianne Daggett

    I’m a Whimsical Polygamist. I’ll read two books at a time, keeping both in my purse for any spare moment I have while waiting at the doctor’s office or while waiting to be called to be seated at a busy restaurant. I’m currently reading ‘Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox’, ‘Savvy’ and ‘The Story of Edgar Sawtelle’, although ‘Sawtelle’ usually stays at home because it’s so huge. I read whichever I’m in the mood for at the time.

  4. Kat B

    I’m placebound, for sure. I read clinical stuff at work, novels on the to and from work, writing books in the living room, and short stories are for the bedroom.

  5. Jabbots

    I’m a Placebound Polygamist, one book by the bed, one in my bag. And then at least two nonguilty pleasure paperbacks for any business trip – where I usually buy a book at any store I go to.

  6. Miri

    Mainly Monogamist, though I also have a Daily Lit book on the side… And I have my occasional torrid flings, mostly with beloved re-reads, and especially when I’m sick or otherwise under stress. If I need to go to a doctor’s office or stay home sick, there’s likely to be a Tamora Pierce at my side.

  7. VICKI

    I’m SUCH a monogamist! I feel each book deserves my undivided attention and emotional energy, even if I decide not to finish it. I’m a pretty fast reader though, so I can finish a book in a couple of days. It would probably be different if it took me weeks to finish a book.

  8. Donna

    Combo of 2 and 3: I have one book in the car for times when I have to wait picking up my children or at the doctor’s office, one book at work for lunch breaks, a writing-related magazine downstairs, and three books on my nightstand: poetry, nonfiction, and fiction.

  9. Lee

    I’m Monogamous–in my personal reading, it’s one and only one book at a time for me. I too am a fast reader, so I often read a book in just a day or two. All that skimming of books at work (I’m a librarian) doesn’t count!

  10. Lauri

    I grew up a monogamous reader, but I have regressed to the 60s and rather than committing to a reading relationship, I think I am more in line with the flower children and free love. I am more afraid of finishing a book and not having anything else to read. Any trip out of the house includes two books in the purse and one in the car. God forbid the wait in a doctor’s office grows so long I finish a book and with nothing else to read I am left at the mercy of the ubiquitious television drivel. I currently have 53 books stacked in the living room either to be read or in various stages of being read. No order, no rules, pretty much whim. Sometimes I will finish a book such as A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, heave a sigh, and immediately begin rereading it.

  11. Phoebe

    I’m all three of those subtypes you mentioned! Really! Right now I’m reading The Idiot almost exclusively in bed with a flashlight, but I also brought in on vacation; I’m sort of reading this book of Chekhov plays in random spurts; I’m reading a nonfiction book about conceptualizing the Serbs in the international worldview, and I am plowing through Sujata Massey mysteries to read at the gym or while procrastinating. And reading the new Lauren Weisberger book, in the local bookstore because I don’t want to buy it. Aside from the fact that I am obviously totally obsessed with Slavic literature, it seems that my reading is in need of focus! Additionally, I too will finish a book and immediately begin rereading it, just to get back in there, if it’s that good.

  12. Abby

    I’m a #3! I can read more than one book at a time, but usually it’s, say, a children’s book and an adult book. Or a sci-fi book, a non-fiction book, and a teen romance. If I read books of the same genre at the same time, I tend to get confused and mix them up!

  13. Erin Black

    Definitely a polygamist, usually reading several books at a time (usually some combination of a couple adult novels, some short stories, a couple YAs, something nf, with a poetry journal on the side). There’s always a book (sometimes 2) in my bag for commuting and waiting, but I also try to make these paperbacks and dense (not the hardcover middlegrade novel I’m working on) so that they last until I can get home and replace. Also, borrowed books usually get read faster than books that are mine and don’t have to go back to a friend or coworker or the library.

  14. Becky

    I’m a Whimsical Polygamist, but it really depends on what I’m reading. I’ve had up to six books going at once; on the other hand there are certain books that I’m so engrossed in that I can’t even read magazines because it might detract from the story. That rule usually applies to older books that require more attention in order to fully understand. Following the relationship metaphor, I’m also an on-again off-again girl in that I can read a section of a book, switch to other books, and go for up to a year without reading the original book. But then, when the time comes, I can pick up my place quickly and easily and fall into the story again. Strange bunch we are, huh? 🙂

  15. Julie E.

    “I can’t tell you why this is, because I don’t actually understand it.” I know why it is: because on some level, the first book isn’t really what you want to be reading at the time, and the second book is, so naturally your attention stays with the second book. I’m the same way–a total Serial Monogamist. I try really hard to pick the book that’s right for my mood, so I don’t give up on it halfway through and switch to something else.

  16. Christine

    My reading is becoming a French bedroom farce. Too many doors being flung open at inopportune moments. This must stop. I have settled on one book and that is the only book I will read until I’ve finished it. Then the next and so on, until sanity is restored.

  17. Rowena

    In the summertime I get caught up trying to catch up with the newspapers, swimming, and the 40 hr work week,and successfully recovering my pilfered petunias back from the guy who stole ’em! I admit, my reading is seasonal. When it’s very hot, I love reading books where’s it’s very cold, such as Cathie Pelletier’s Weight of Winter. Any book that has a lot of snow and ice in it is perfect!

  18. Kym Havens

    Well, if Alison puts something in my hands it definitely comes first (I know it will be good). I just finished Hunger Games today (THANK YOU, Alison!!)and Hate That Cat on Friday. I usually have 2 or 3 going at a time. I am a fast reader though, so tend to stay very involved with them all. So many books, so little time! I try to have one to review (so hard to keep up with the deadlines) and a couple for pleasure. I am definitely most like Becky. So nice to know there are others like us!

  19. Stacy

    Whimical Polygamist, definately! There are books I am trying to like, books I need to read for school, books for blogging, books for information! It never ends. I only get confused occasionally if the setting are close!

  20. Kay

    Miri, I’m in your boat, Tamora Pierce is my comfort read, along with the Abhorsen series from Garth Nix, when I’m stressed or crabby. Beyond that I was a strict Serial Monogamist until I began working for a publishing company, now I am a no-holds barred Polygamist reading perhaps 5 or 6 books at any given time, though most of them tend to be non-competative: a comfort read, my latest fantasy discovery, 2 or 3 for work (I write reading group guides, among other things) and House of Leaves (which I’ve been reading forever).


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