It’s hard to remember a time back before I was reading a handful of books at any given time. The example I was going to give was in high school – I’d have one book going, say, a Stephen King or a Mary Higgins Clark or a Michael Crichton, and I’d read it and read it and read it and then it was done. And then I’d immediately pick up the next book, and so on and so forth.
Except that’s not really true. That might be what I was doing for pleasure reading during the summer or school break, but it wasn’t exactly what I was doing during most of the year. The rest of the year, during “normal” operations, I’d have one book going for fun, that’s true. But I’d also have a book that I was reading in English class, and a book I had for assigned reading for English homework, and during my junior year there would be books assigned for journalism class (my teacher knew our curriculum in high school English had missed most of the classics and I’m so glad she worked them into her class syllabus somehow), and during junior and senior year I had monthly book reports on top of all of that. The truth is that during the school year, I was reading just as many books at once then as I am now.
I guess book juggling is so much a part of me, I didn’t realize I had always done it. Excelled at it. Gloried in it.
I understand that juggling is not for everyone. Sometimes I end up leaving a book for so long that I forget what’s going on, or I forget how much I was enjoying it and let it wither away, collecting dust. Some readers need to focus on a singular story, and I can respect that. I like having multiple story lines going, because it means I can read more and satiate more of my own story-needs. I can hit my creepy story fix at lunch and my lit fic at night and squeeze in small doses of non-fic on my phone while I’m waiting in line. Weepy love stories and embarrassingly trashy romance gets the nod when I’m feeling sick. Everything has a place and a time this way.
My book juggling started with my first grown-up job, when I had a designated lunch hour – an entire hour! – that was used for something other than running home to let the puppy out. I started bringing a book with me to read in the break room, or in the car, or at the park. Wherever struck my fancy and guaranteed the most quiet. Except there were days when I forgot my book, which was almost as annoying as crawling into bed at the end of the day, only to remember my book was on the passenger seat of my car. So I started leaving a book in the car for lunches, long red lights, and other emergencies. My mom used to do the same thing; she was a stay-at-home mom for most of our childhood, but she spent a lot of time waiting in the pick-up lane at school or in the bleachers at my brother and sister’s t-ball practice.
So the lunch-book and nighttime books became an early fixture. Right now I have Khaled Housseini’s new one And the Mountains Echoed waiting patiently for me in the car. I know it breaks the pattern, but I can read about 100 pages during lunch (as opposed to only 20-30 at night) and I have a feeling I’m going to want to devour that book! I just finished Jennifer Miller’s Year of the Gadfly as my nighttime book; I’m thinking of starting Beautiful Creatures as my next pick…as long as it’s not too creepy.
And now that the girls are older, we’ve moved away from picture books and are reading chapter books together. Gracie, my 9-year-old, is a fellow book juggler. The one we’re currently reading together each night is Marissa Burt’s Storybound. Not as great as some of the others we’ve read recently, but Gracie loves all the title-dropping it does and the general meta-ness of it. Bee, my 7-year-old reluctant reader, and I are working through Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Bee was a little disappointed at first that the story is about a boy – Bee thinks Ramona is her spirit animal – but she’s coming around. It’s funny: I bought the book for Gracie because I thought she would love Fudge, but she started it and couldn’t get interested. Bee, my girl who wanted to learn how to read, but couldn’t be bothered practicing (or, at times, even being read to) is the one who loves Fudge and Ramona and Ralph S. Mouse – the characters who populated my childhood.
So those are the four big categories: a nighttime book, a lunch book, a Gracie-book, and a Bee-book. I also have a book on my phone that I read in lines and when I get stuck behind trains and that occasional moment at work when I want to throw a tantrum or cry in a bathroom stall – five minutes with a book does wonders for my blood pressure. And somehow, none of the books cross wires or send characters bookjumping. Which is sad, really, because that bookjumping thing would be pretty cool.
I wonder, though, where I fit in the Book Juggling-ometer. Do you think more readers juggle multiple books? Or are single-story readers? And if book juggling gets the nod, how many books is the average?