As a reader, I hate reading two books at once. Am I alone?
In college, I switched my major to English junior year and had a measly nine credit hours towards my new course of study.
Did I still graduate on time? Yes. How did I do it? Take nothing but English literature courses my junior year. Five English classes per semester. Worst idea ever. Not only was I reading five different novels/plays a week, but I had to write a three to five page paper for each.
For me, Hell settled over Champaign/Urbana in Fall 2003 and Spring 2004 like a thundercloud whose wind has disappeared.
I assured myself I would only read a book at a time and never write about it upon escaping English major purgatory.
Then I became an English teacher. Early on, I juggled books for separate classes upon occasion. While I didn’t have to write essays for those books, my students did. Then I had to grade them.
After a decade plus of teaching, I rarely read two new books simultaneously, but I grade two sets of papers on two different pieces of literature often.
Is that similar? Or worse?
Twice on my personal reading journey this year I willingly read two books concurrently. Why? Because I needed a break.
Take a break from a book with a different book? Sounds insane. Any other crazies out there?
The first was Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving, of A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules fame. I loved both and thought I would tackle another of his ventures.
However, I struggled with Avenue of Mysteries.
The protagonist, an older Mexican-American gentleman and famous novelist, reflects on his past through scarily accurate dream sequences while traveling across the world. Two younger women (a mother and daughter combo), who can’t be captured on film or seen in mirrors, seduce him. Because he messes with his Viagra and beta-blocker dosages, he falls asleep and is mistaken for dead upon several occasions.
I love magical realism, but this screams dirty old man dirty old man dirty old man.
Two hundred pages into the 450 page tome, my interest waned, but 200 pages is two thirds of an average novel. I couldn’t end my misery. Whenever I needed a break, I read Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, a collection of short stories.
The second book joining me on the struggle bus was I Am Malala, the true tale of a young girl’s life under Taliban rule in Pakistan. Because she advocated for women’s educational rights, the Taliban shot her in the face.
She won the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest winner in history.
Her story is awe-inspiring, miraculous, and resilient, but if a memoir doesn’t read like a novel, my heart loses interest.
Then I realized Malala Yousafzai epitomizes having heart. I felt like a heartless idiot for pondering quitting, so I retrieved my useless heart out of the recycling bin, shoved it into my chest cavity, and finished like a decent Tin Man after visiting with Oz (while mildly hyperventilating about possible botulism contamination).
I read three other novels during my time spent with I Am Malala: Fredrik Backman’s Beartown, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader.
What’s my takeaway?
Sometimes, you can’t quit a book (like you can’t quit the gym, Chandler Bing).
Sometimes, you can take a break with a new one (not the same thing, Ross Geller).
Sometimes, irony unfolds 14 years later: sitting in Louisiana instead of Illinois, gazing at a Dell touch screen laptop instead of a stationary, gargantuan Gateway, and writing up a reading-geared blog instead of a thematic analysis.
While a Friends allusion eludes me here, folks, I binge watched the series via DVD in lieu of attending classes from time to time. Because when you’re reading five books of professors’ choosing at once, you don’t take a break with another book.