I’ve built up a fair ability to multi-task certain things over the years. Ironing while watching TV (or more recently the Plagues, Witches and War video lecture on historical fiction) ? No problem. Gardening while catching up on the latest podcast or listening to an audio book? Easy. Cleaning up my email archive while listening in to an audio conference for work? Simple ( just remember to put your phone on mute so the sound of key tapping doesn’t give you away).
I’ve mastered all of these activities but one thing I have never managed to get the hang of is reading more than one book at a time.
I know some avid readers find no difficulties in having two or even three books on the go simultaneously. But not me.
I’m so poor at keeping track of characters’ names that I will often get to the end of the book and can’t remember what their name was. When reading I sometimes have to look back to remind myself who the person is that’s just been mentioned ( Russian novels where the individual’s given name, family name and patronymic can be used interchangeably, get me particularly confused.) So if I get perplexed by one set of characters, having a completely different set to keep track of, throws me into a spin.
Then there’s the difficulty of remembering where I am in the narrative. If I leave off reading a book for any length of time there is a danger I’ll forget what has happened already so then I have to back-track to fill in the blanks again.
I’ve tried a couple of strategies such as making sure I am reading vastly different genres. Two crime novels at the same time would be far too confusing. I’ve also tried reading a chapter from each in rotation. But that was frustrating because just as I was getting back into the style and the story, it was time to stop.
So I’ve more or less abandoned this as something that just will not work for me.
Problem is that to take full advantage of the Plagues, Witches and War course it would help to have read each of the five set texts before the date when each author will hold a discussion group on their work. So far I’ve read just one and am about 100 pages into another. It’s just not feasible to squeeze any more reading time into my day. My options are therefore to skim read each book so at least I have a rough idea of what it’s about (doesn’t seem very fair on the author) or to skip one book and come back to it at the end of the course (which means missing out on good discussions with other students) or to nail my problem with simultaneous reading once and for all .
I’m hoping that somewhere in the blogosphere are some smart people who have honed this skill and can share their strategies with me.