Wed
Jun 22 2011 11:05am
Reading all of it at once, or reading all of them at once

I think I’ve mentioned that my husband and I have different philosophies on reading series—I tend to prefer internal chronological order, and he tends to prefer publication order. There’s another difference in our approach to series. I want to read all of a series at once, plunging right in to that world. My posts about the Aubrey-Maturin books appeared here every Monday for months, but I actually read all twenty books in about three weeks of non-stop O’Brian immersion. You can probably tell that I do this if you read my posts regularly, because there’ll be a burst of posts about a series from time to time—all the Miles books, or all the Vlad books.

What Emmet likes to do though is to read, or re-read, a series slowly, interspersed with other things. He’ll sometimes be in the middle of slow re-reads of several series, where he’ll pick up the next book as much as a month afterwards. When he reads book 2 directly after book 1, it’s something to take notice of. You’d think I’d be used to this, but while I do now know about it I still find it really strange that he doesn’t want to keep breathing the same air.

And then I discovered that there are people who stop reading a book in the middle and read something else. I don’t mean because it’s a great big hardback and they don’t want to carry it with all the shopping they’ll be carrying so they take F&SF out with them to read on the metro—I sometimes do that. It’s generally a magazine with short stories I take in that situation, but I do understand the usefulness of it even if I can’t always bring myself to do it if the heavy hardback is particularly compelling. I also don’t mean that they start reading something else if they leave the book they are reading at home, or locked into somebody else’s car. That’s perfectly normal.

I also don’t mean the thing where somebody is bored with a book and they read something else while deciding whether to make the effort to finish it. I occasionally do this—not very often, but it has happened. Or there is the related thing where you’re reading book A which is something merely okay and book B which is something wonderful and awaited arrives at the library (or in the post) and you have to read book B now now now now now! I have done this two or three times over the last thirty years, but it takes a particular combination of A and B. If book A is actually a pretty good book, I’ll usually finish it first.

Nor do I mean the thing where you’re reading one book slowly for research while reading fiction fast at the same time—like a while ago I was reading Vienna 1814 at breakfast, a couple of chapters a day for a month or so. It’s a great book—gossip about the Congress of Vienna—but there was only so much of it I could take at once.

No, I’m talking about fiction reading done entirely for pleasure, and I’m talking about what Emmet does with series, except with individual books. In a situation where nothing prevents someone from carrying on with the book they’re reading except their own whimsy, but they put it down on a whim and pick up something else and read that instead—or read part of that. I heard of a case recently where somebody had half a dozen books unfinished on their nightstand—and they had enjoyed as much as they had read of all of them.

Now I know—it’s Ugol’s law—that you can never say “Does anyone else do this?” There might be nobody who reads with a pineapple on their head, but if even one person does it, then there are always lots of people who do it. So my question is addressed to those of you who do this strange thing: if you do this, why do you?

I’d really like to understand.

My feeling is that once I’m immersed in a world and characters and plot and the author’s style, I don’t want to get used to a whole new set of those things and then switch back to the first lot. It gives me whiplash. Even at end-of-book natural breakpoints, if I’m enjoying the series I’d rather read the next one than anything else.

So what is it that makes you enjoy this reckless chopping and changing? Why doesn’t the desire to find out what happens, or (in the case of re-reading) follow the road along to its ending, keep you reading the first book until it’s done, and then pick up the second book in an orderly fashion? And having immersed yourself in the airs and style of one writer and accustomed yourself to their mode and pacing, why do you want to keep switching atmosphere? (I keep thinking of this in terms of going from breathing oxygen to chlorine...) There must be some benefit to it, but I don’t understand what it is.

Enlighten me, please?

And those of you who do it with series, I’m interested in your thoughts on this too.

Photo of woman reading books by Rachel Sian used under Creative Commons license


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

65 comments
13xforever
1. 13xforever
Sometimes the world fatigues me after a while. Then I switch to something quite different to make a splash.

It's like eating meat all week. Yes, I like meat, but I still might prefer to eat some fish or chicken or what have you.
13xforever
2. DanWells
I do this all the time. I am currently reading ... *counts* ... four books. Which is about average, though I've had as many as seven going at once before. I guess it's just a case of valuing different things: some people value conistency, and others value variety. It's like looking at a plate full of food, with mashed potatoes and turkey and peas. Why would would I want to eat the potatoes first, all by themselves, before moving on? It tastes so much better to mix them up, to take a bit of potatoes and turkey together, and then have some peas, and them maybe a sip of water, and so on. Some people like immersion, some like contrast.
Nick Ickowicz
3. Nolder
it really depends on the series
for epic fantasy (such as lotr or wot) I tend to read everything straight through

for something more along the lines of a repetitive series (think the first 3 harry potters) where it's more formulic and you kind of know what to expect I don't mind picking up one and reading it and then reading some other stuff before continuing with the next in the series
13xforever
4. DanWells
Ha, funny that we both used a food metaphor.
13xforever
5. nicholas schoonbeck
I like to stay with a series as long as possible. I only break where publishing forces me to break, because the book isn't published yet. I'm currently reading Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books. I will stick with them till I've read them all. I did that with his Tarzan books too. but that's just me. I don't know why someone would break in the middle either.
13xforever
6. Natenanimous
What I do is read different types of stories all at the same time. I have different stories and books for different parts of my day, and I go through all of them slowly at the same time.

For example, right now I am reading a new release fantasy book (The White-Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker) during my lunch breaks at work each day. At home, I sit in my reading chair and tackle my history books, which I love. While I exercise each day, I am able to do a re-read book (currently A Storm of Swords, by George Martin, in anticipation of the new book). In the evenings I will dip into my comic book collection and read something there. And then for 20 or 30 minutes directly before bed, while propped up on pillows with my fiance, I read my reference books (I am in love with the Doris-Kindersley line of "complete visual guide" books, and am reading one on animal life and behaviour).

My reasoning is that I love all of these styles. I want to read fiction, I want to do re-reads, I want to read history, I want to read comics, and I want to read my reference books. I am not satisfied with focusing on one at a time, because I can never stop thinking that reading one of those other types would also be enjoyable. I don't want to go a long period of time without any one of these. So my solution is to read them all at once, dividing them out between my different available reading times. It makes finishing any one book a lengthy process, but I quite enjoy it. I'm getting a wide variety of reading and learning on a constant basis.
Teresa Williams
7. teresaw2007
Hi Jo! As much as it pains me to say it, I am definitely one of those who has 6 or 7 books only half-read on their nightstand, or on their desk at work, in the car, etc. It took me a long time to figure out why this was, but when my husband finally broke down and bought me a Kindle a couple of years ago, I did finally understand why I was so hesitant in finishing books or a series of books: I don't want the story to end. I came to realize that if I finished the book, then there would be no more mystery to it. I would know what happens to the characters but I would put the book away and move on to something else. There are a few series that I enjoy reading over and over, though (i.e. WoT, Shannara, Ice & Fire). However, the reason I do this is because there are still books being written for these series, so I have a really good reason for going back and re-immersing myself into those worlds. I have a feeling that when B. Sanderson finally finishes A Memory of Light, I'll be taking my pain-staking time getting through it just because I've invested so much time into learning about and caring about those characters, I'm afraid I'll be devastated when there will be nothing new to be written for them anymore....The reason I mention the Kindle is because since I was able to take my books anywhere I wanted, there was no excuse for me not to finish what I was reading, but I've found that even on my Kindle I have unfinished books waiting for me to come back to them. Very strange, yes, and I am definitely working against myself in trying to finish what I start. And, I'm pretty sure that the library would like me to actually RETURN the couple of books that I've been constantly checking out but not reading. LOL
Thanks, Jo, for this post, because this may be the first time that I have openly admitted this to anyone other than myself and it feels pretty good to get it out there. And maybe, one of these days, like whenever I retire, I can finish reading the hundreds of books that I have sitting around on shelves and in boxes :)
Colleen Palmer
8. arianrose
I do both things. Right now, I'm rereading Wheel of Time. But it's a reread, and sometimes I want something fresh, or interesting, or just different. So I pick up a different book, polish it off, and go back to WOT.

But I'm also one of those people that tends to read a lot of books at a time. Mostly, this is a mood thing. If I'm in the middle of an amazing doorstop fantasy novel, but what I really want to be reading is a snarky funny book in the bath, I'll put down whatever it is and pick up an old Pratchett. Different books scratch different itches. (It's hard for me to limit this to just fiction, though. On my night stand I currently have Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey, Naked Economics (author unrecalled), and Warrior Wisewoman edited by Rory James (though I can't recall which volume.)

And that doesn't include my Kindle, which currently has bookmarks for The Eye of the World, That Was the Millenium That Was, and Dear John, I Love Jane
YouDont NeedToKnow
9. necrosage2005
My example would be more along the lines of watching a T.V. show. Pick your favorite, Law & Order, Star Trek, Mythbusters, or even Buffy. All are great shows, but do you want to do a marathon where that is the only thing that you watch all day long from morning to night, or would you rather break it up and watch it in chuncks? I've tried both ways and although both have their good points both also have negatives.

If it is a short series like Narnia, I'll read it all back to back. If it is a long series like TWoT I have to take my time and read the newest book when I can (after I'm done with whatever I'm reading). Books that I don't like, like Martin's GoT, I actually get bored and have to force myself to finish the book. Sometimes this means that I stop reading entirely and worry about what ever else I'm doing at the time.
13xforever
10. UrsulaMinor
I like to have a fiction and non-fiction going at the same time (Current reads: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl), although unless I am very familiar with series (like WoT), I like to keep to one-of-a-genre at a a time.

I usually feel compelled to start books while in the middle of other books because I heard something good about them, or interesting, and I can't contain my curiosity. Reading Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear, I felt compelled to pick up a couple of Agatha Christies in the middle, because the characters read and make reference to Agatha Christie novels. If the book is especially long, I might have time to dash off a couple short books if the pace slows down.
13xforever
11. Scotoma
I often have five to seven partly read books around, jumping between them at whim. Sometimes I start reading a book, stop for a few months, then finish it. Sometimes I find books I've read partly, years ago, and never finished (thought in those case it's mostly because I was bored but couldn't convince myself to give up).

But the reason for doing this jumping between books, is, well, I really can't explain. Sometimes there are so many books I want to read, and whenever I hit something that makes me stumble in one book, even just the smallest change of setting or POV, that's the reason I needed to abandon the book for the moment and jump to the next. The grass is greener somewhere else, this kind of thing.
Joanne
12. Joanne
I also tend to select the book I read based on how I am feeling, my mood and the time of day.

I often have a book that I am interested in but takes a lot of concentration (current project Anna Karenina) which I only read when I am well rested and have time for it. At the same time I usually read something 'easier' relaxing and fun, for when I am tired and just want to relax.

If a book is very dark I might not always be in the mood to read it, and might
switch to something light and funny in between to make me feel better. This also occurs if I am very upset or angry about a plot point of the book that I just need some time away from it to calm down. I can for example only take GRRMs Song of Ice and Fire at chapter sized bits.

Lastly there is of course the essential Book before Bedtime, which has to be good, relaxing, and stoppable, so that I do not end up reading all night.

But if a book or series really grips me I will drop all other things (including sleep now and then, unfortunately) and read it straight through.

I find the differences in style and world not very jarring, provided they are very different. I would not read two fantasy series at the same time.
Chris Palmer
13. cmpalmer
I have a pretty horrible book memory, particularly when I read too fast. This is a great benefit for my ability to re-read books. I'll remember the basic plot and characters, but still manage to surprise myself on each re-reading. This definitely works against me in reading long book series. If I don't read them all at once, I fall out of the story and have a hard time starting the next one without re-reading all (or the last few) of the previous ones. For example, I'm about 1/3 of the way through Feast for Crows in anticipation of Dance with Dragons. This means that for several series of x number of books, I've read the first book x number of times, the second x-1 times, the third x-2 times and so on. That said, as much fun as it is to come to a series when it is finished and read them all at once, I've never been able to make myself not start a planned trilogy of books until they've all been published.

There are exceptions. Loosely coupled series, such as mystery books about the same character, for example. I don't have a problem picking up a new Robert Crais or Michael Connelly book and diving in. Order does matter somewhat for these, but in most cases I picked up one in the middle after reading good reviews, liked it, then went back to the beginning and read them all in order to catch up.

There is another category of books like Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels. To me, they're fun pulp fiction that I zip through in a hour or so (groaning occassionally). Then I promptly forget them. I have picked up one at a used bookstore that I thought I hadn't read and only realize that I have read it before about 3/4 of the way through it. Order doesn't matter for these, either. I've read most of them (I think) but I never had an urge to do a complete, chronological read of them.

For the most part, I prefer publication order because I figure the author is revealing things in the order that she or he intended to.

I can manage to read, say, a fiction book and couple of non-fiction books concurrently, but only rarely do I read two or more fiction books at the same time. If I am reading multiple works of fiction, it's likely that one is a re-read or a "I really should read this, but I'm not loving it" slog. If I abandon a book midway, for reasons other than not liking the book, leaving it somewhere inconvenient or starting a book I've been waiting to read for example, I'm likely to restart it rather than try to pick up where I left off.
Jesse Whitehead
14. gmvader
I always am reading at least nine books -- occasionally ten.

I have an audiobook that I listen to whenever I'm driving. I have a book that I keep in my pocket in case I have to wait for something. I have an ebook on my ipod in case I forget my other book. I keep one in the bathroom. I have four that I keep next to the bed that I cycle through each night and I have one final book that I read to my two year old while he is taking his bath.

I don't know why I do it this way. I just like it. I also don't read series straight through. When I finish one book I wait a couple months before I start the next one. I just like to keep things mixed up.
13xforever
15. Tamara K
I read multiple books too, but its usually becuase I don't think they're very good just then, but not so bad that I don't want to finish them.

I'll start reading something, and at some point it will lose my interest - my mood will change and it won't fit anymore, the characters I was more attached to will go offscreen, some new aspect i'm less immediately interested in will come into focus, or i'll just reach some critical mass of a few hundred pages where what I don't like about the book will overcome what I do. So i'll pick up something else. When i've finished that, or when I hit the rough patch of that, i'll get back to the original book (or the one before that, or the one before that, or something new) and give it another go.

I can go up to about 8 - 9 before I start feeling like i'm enjoying books less than I would otherwise, but if I hit on a book or a series I like, that isn't tripping me up in some way, I have no problem whatsoever staying immersed in it for weeks. I read all five Shadows of the Apt books available at the time in about 12 days. All three Matthew Swifts in a week, both with no interruptions by anything else. But it took me 3 months to get through Way of Kings, and I finished 15 other books in that time, and theres a book i've been reading for 6 months, in occassional bits and pieces between other stuff, becuase I want to find out what happens to one minor character.

I do want to add that often enough its not necessarily in anyway the mark of a bad book to be put down (sometimes it is though) just some personal, often momentary disconnect. I read *most* books this way, including ones I ultimately find really, really good. (I love Shadows of the Apt too, but its not necessarily in my top profoundly astonishing favorites ever either.)

Also, that the Kindle, which has all the books conveniently with me at all times, all pages immediately kept track of, really facilitates this. (Though i've been in the habit of multiple books as long as I can remember being a reader.)
Ian Gazzotti
16. Atrus
I second necrosage's comment about tv series: if you can watch a handful of shows at the same time, one episode a week, and still remain immersed in the world and characters... then why is it so odd when someone does that with books? Or do we believe that the written word is inherently more complex - and thus harder to leave and come back - than other media?
Also, as others have said, sometimes you just want to read a different kind of book, whether it is because of mood, or location, or a whim.

At the moment I'm reading some Sherlock Holmes, a couple of pulp sci-fi, Cat Valente's Ventriloquism *and* an e-book during breaks at work. Not to mention a collection of essays and Titus Groan, half read and which I haven't touched in months, but that I could start reading again tomorrow. Strange as it may sound, I can jump from one to the other pretty easily. :)
Kristoff Bergenholm
17. Magentawolf
I tend to have three or four books going at once; sometimes because they're stored in different locations, or I just get distracted in the middle! Right now, I think I'm in the midst of six half-finished ones. >.>

However, I do tend to buy and read series' all at once; nothing annoys me more then when a bookstore is missing the 1st or second novel in a storyline.
13xforever
18. wcarter4
Currently reading two non-related Louise La'Amoures, LoTR (again), and A Clash of Kings again in anticipation. That's not counting all the hundreds of news articles I read weekly for work or webcomics.
I can't tell you why I read the way I read except that I cache books like a squirell. One La'Amoure is in my truck to read on my lunch breaks. The other is on my night desk with LoTR (I switch out between the two fairly randomly before bed each night). And a Clash of Kings I pull out when there is nothing going on at work.
Corey McKinnon
19. CMcKinnon
Since I got my Kindle, I'm almost always reading two books at once: one physical book (because I still like them, and I still have a big to-read pile of them) and one on the Kindle. However, I have found if the two books are close to the same style, I have problems. For example, if I'm reading a fantasy book, my Kindle book has to be something else, like sci-fi or a thriller. Otherwise I do tend to confuse the two a bit.

For series, it depends. The last time I re-read Wheel of Time, I went through all of them uninterrupted. I'm currently two books into the Malazan series (first time) and I've found I have to take a break before I'm ready for the next one.
13xforever
20. Azuaron
I do what your husband does (except I prefer internal chronological order). Part of it probably comes from getting into SFF from Dragonlance books. Dozens of authors. Hundreds of characters. Picking up the next book in the series is almost like picking up a different series most of the time.

There's also the issue of publication date. A Dance With Dragons has been in-progress for how many years? I can read faster than an author can write (I read each Harry Potter book the week it came out), so it would be detrimental to my reading schedule if I insisted on finishing an ongoing series before moving to the next.

That being said, I do the same established series. For instance, I'm in the middle of Wheel of Time (Fires of Heaven), and I read at least two non-WoT between WoT books. The Dresden Files books I read as fast as I buy them, but there's a whole bunch, and I haven't bought them all yet, so I'm a little behind (but catching up). Discworld... Discworld, Discworld, Discworld. For some reason, I never remember to buy more. I'm only four books in, which is really a shame. I am going with publication date on Discworld, mainly because it's nearly impossible to figure out any kind of internal chronology (Pratchett doesn't even like maps) and publication date is close to the internal chronology anyway.

But, then again, I need to start The Dark Tower and finish reading everything Brandon Sanderson has ever written (which includes the latest WoT books). Add to this the fact that I've only (and just!) read the first two books of Song of Ice and Fire; the first two books of Dune (the second one really let me down; I'm not sure how far I'll get); only one Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers); just discovered 1632/Ring of Fire/Assiti Shards; only the first three Ender books (and nothing else Card's written); only the first three Asimov books; and... well, I think you begin to see the problem.

Part if it is author restlessness. If I read all 4 million+ words (accurate; I looked it up) of Wheel of Time in one go, I'd probably go crazy (especially since some of the books are dull dull dull with glacial plot).

But, even with series that just keep getting better (Dresden Files, for instance), I still like to mix things up. You've seen my (incomplete) reading list. There's a lot of awesome there (and many of the authors don't have the courtesy to wait until I'm ready to finish another book). So I am not monogamous when it comes to series/authors; I'm a reading slut. I need variety in my reading experiences. I will finish one reading encounter before I move on to the next (unless it really isn't doing it for me; I'm looking at you, Neuromancer), but I require a variety of encounters.

I suppose a fair amount of this might also come from enjoying both science fiction and fantasy in nearly equal parts. For instance, once I finish Fires of Heaven (fantasy), I'm planning to read The Robots of Dawn (science fiction), then A Storm of Swords (fantasy) or maybe Elantris (also fantasy), then... well, by then, I'll probably have more books than I do now (such as the next Dresden Files; 1633; Stranger in a Strange Land; and Robots and Empire), so I'll have more options.
13xforever
21. dav
I probably have at least a dozen books that I'm reading at any one time - including rereads. I guess I like to jump around in the worlds. It's pretty easy for me to keep everything separate in my head. The only time I've had any issue with keeping a story straight is always based on publication lag i.e. I know for certain I've forgotten great swaths of the political goings on in Song of Ice and Fire, and the series is so dense that I don't really want to reread them.

I do usually have a "main" book that I'm reading. One that I take to lunch with me or read before bed five nights a week. But I'll pick up the others randomly throughout the week with no problem. It kind of feels like watching television and checking in on an ongoing series. It's more entertaining, gives me some variety and keeps me engaged longer. I can't think of anything more depressing than burning through a tome like Wise Man's Fear in two days. I need to live with it for a season at least.

I also put books that I do love down all the time. I love The Windup Girl, but I've put it down half-finished for the last two months to read other things that I also liked, but not any more. This is the part of my reading that I can't really explain. I don't know why I haven't returned to House of Leaves in 6 years or Perdido Street Station in 2. They are awesome books, I think of them often, but I've just drifted to other books in the meantime. I get the bouncing back and forth if it stays consistent, but I don't know why I tend to drop at least one significant book every year and not really get back to it. Downloading books on my iPad has not helped matters. When presented with the option to bring along the hardback or the iPad I almost always go with the ebooks. It happens with the library too. If I see something there I've been meaning to read, but not yearning for, I'll still invariably drop most things to focus on it during the lend time. Then the other books get pushed aside briefly and then more permanently.
Katy Coole
22. k8ekol
I am not someone who can read multiple books at a time. I have to finish the one I'm on before beginning another one. I generally will work my way through a series if another book is available to me for my next reading and I'm not waiting for it to be published, but this isn't always the case.

Ex. I adored The Hunger Games (on my Kindle), but I'm perfectly content to put the trilogy (in hardback) on my birthday list to complete reading later. On the other hand, when I finished reading The Hundred Thousand Kindoms I immediately downloaded The Broken Kingdoms.

When the WoT series is finally completed I plan to do a read/reread of the entire series since Winters Heart I've been boycotting it until the last book released. I've been buying the books, but I haven't read them yet. I imagine that will take some time to complete and that I'll need breaks every so often just so I don't get burnt out on the world.

On top of not reading more than one book at a time I've also learned that I can't have a TBR pile. I have to buy a book w/ the intention of starting it immediately. I thought it would be nice to have a TBR pile and stocked up on some books that I really wanted to read and as soon as I did so I no longer want to read those books. They sit beside my bed taunting me :)
Dave West
23. Jhirrad
@9 and 16 - I don't think that's really a valid comparison. The major difference not being that the written word is more inherently complex, but rather based in the simple fact that you are CHOOSING to wait, rather than having that imposed on you. Think recently to A Game of Thrones on HBO. While it was good to have something to watch every Sunday night for 10 weeks, I know that those I watched the series with that had not read the books wanted to know what was going to happen the next week. And they were somewhat despondent that they now have to wait another 10 months to get more. Alternately, I didn't watch Dollhouse when it was originally aired. But once I found it on Netflix, I burned through it, really only breaking to sleep and work and read. I had it all available to me, so I went for it.

I'm really with Jo on this one. When I'm reading a series, I immerse myself into it, and generally only take a "break" from it if something I have been waiting for comes out. Examples recently being in my read of the Malazan series, I had to put them aside briefly to read both Bakker's White Luck Warrior and Rothfuss's Wise Man's Fear. If you have a completed series, or at least one with multiple volumes, and the world is really compelling, at least for me, I'm not leaving that world until I'm through all it has to offer, or it, for whatever reason, might stop calling me.
13xforever
24. 12stargazers
How I re-read a series depends on how it's written. I do both full imersion re-reads and casual re-reads, but never for the same series.

Some series, like Lois McMaster Bujold's, are what I call a Meta Novel. Each book forms a chapter in a much larger story arc. The Miles Meta Novel is about how an awkward mutant outcast integrates himself into the society that rejected him. That is a series I'll read back to back to back because the character changes and grows with each book. Then there's her Sharing Knife series which is a lot like JRR Tolkien-meets-the-Old-West in the fact that the series is actually one big book chopped up into four bits. Series like this are always full imersion re-reads for me.

Other series, like David Weber's Honor Harrington books, are more formulaic. I read three or four of them back to back and decided I didn't need to read the rest of the novels in the series if I could get my hands on the plot synopses (synopsi?). While the specifics of the adventures changed from book to book, the characters did not learn or grow in any notable way. I think I would have kept reading the series if I hadn't gone the full immersion route the first time in. ( I stopped reading after book four and never went back.)

Still another series type is a crossbred of the Meta Novel and the Formulaic series. One example is Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. It started out as a Meta Novel and then changed mid-series into formulaic story telling. I used to do full immersion re-reads until I kept tripping over the awkward transition from Meta to Formula. Then I stopped reading the series and de-acquisitioned those books when the main character reached demi-god status in all but name.

David Drake's RCN series is mostly formula with a little bit of Meta Novel action. I never do full imersion re-reads though. The characters, by their very natures, are either too rigid, too entrenched or too happy with what they have (or who they are) to ever change. I keep reading the series because the results of their fidelity to type change over time. The politics in-series change, which affects the setting and plots to some extent. Ditto for Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. I can't do full immersion, but I do casual re-reads.

The series in my personal library that are not Meta Novels but do get full immersion re-reads are not in the SF/F genre. I have different reading requirements for my romances and murder mysteries.
13xforever
25. rOARdawg
I rarely finish a series in one swoop. I like to savor a really good series by making it last. Rather than read slow, I'll read other books in between. It's not difficult to resubmerge yourself into a good series. Usually, you can pick up right where you left off, like hanging out with a good friend you haven't seen in a while...
13xforever
26. Carl V.
I wish I could 'enlighten' you, but that would mean that I would have somehow figured out this mania for myself.

I grew up reading like you do. Reading one book at a time. Immersing myself in series (if they existed) or focusing on one author's work before moving on to another. Somewhere in my late 20's, early 30's I "woke up" and realized that I had developed a habit of reading several books at the same time. And like you mention, I was enjoying them all. The only thing I can think of as an explanation, and a shoddy one at that, is that I am easily excited by books and the potential that they offer and rather than having a desire to read book Y interfere with my enjoyment of reading book X, I'll go ahead and start book Y and move back and forth between them. Over the years I've had periods where it just isn't book X and Y, but also A-Z! I've made conscious efforts to not do that anymore. Generally (if I don't count short story collections), I only have 2 or 3 books going at any one time. And many times I will theoretically be reading 3 books but I'll be so immersed in one I'll just go ahead and stick with that one until it is over before going back to the others I was reading.

That is what happened with Among Others, if it is any consolation? Your book managed to cut through my nuttiness and I read it straight through without reading anything else and then read it straight through again, aloud, to my wife.
Sherri Nichols
27. snichols
I used to be mostly a 'one book at a time' reader, but the Kindle has really changed that. On the Kindle, I almost always have two books going (fiction and non-fiction), and often have 3 or 4 books going. I think one reason is that I just read more with the Kindle because it's so convenient.

I still like to consume a series in one big swallow, though.
13xforever
28. dwndrgn
I have been known to have multiple books going at once but usually due to outside forces - must finish this one to get back to the library, must read new excellent Pratchett book, must start this book because I left the other one I was reading at home dagnabbit, or because the one I'm reading is just not doing it for me or is wrong for my mood that day.

I don't stop reading books I'm enjoying to pick up another to enjoy at the same time. Nope, don't understand that. If it is a good book, why wait?
13xforever
29. CarlosSkullsplitter
So what is it that makes you enjoy this reckless chopping and changing? Why doesn’t the desire to find out what happens, or (in the case of re-reading) follow the road along to its ending, keep you reading the first book until it’s done, and then pick up the second book in an orderly fashion? And having immersed yourself in the airs and style of one writer and accustomed yourself to their mode and pacing, why do you want to keep switching atmosphere?

As Groucho Marx denied saying, I love my cigar too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.

One might ask what you get from staying in an atmosphere of only one writer (and only one series by a writer) at a time. Don't you lose mental flexibility? Don't you find it stifling? Don't you ever have the urge to open up a mental window and let a fresh breeze in? It's not like these are loaded questions at all.
13xforever
30. Kvon
I'm another split em up reader...multiple books sorted by where in the house I'm reading them (bed, bathroom, downstairs, car) partly because I don't have big chunks of time for reading anymore. Although when I find myself carrying a book through the house to keep reading it, that's a sign of a particularly good book. Proper immersion takes time.
Evan Braun
31. gilbetron
Maybe it's because I'm not a fast enough reader. Neither am I super slow, mind you, but if you can finish 2 books a week, then sure, maybe it's reasonable to always finish what you start. After all, even if you're excited about the next book on your reading list, you'll only have to wait a couple of days.

However, I usually require 2 weeks to finish a book I LOVE, and 3 weeks or more for a book I just LIKE. If I read a series of 4 books back to back, it would take me a while, and in that time I would find another 4-5 reading options that excite me. So my tendency is to read what I want, when I want it.

Let's say I'm in the middle of Book 2 in a series, and I'm really enjoying it, but it'll be a few weeks before I finish. Then GRRM's "Dance with Dragons" comes out. If I finish my current book, I'll be resenting it because I want to "be" (read) somewhere else. That will negatively affect what has, to this point, been a great reading experience. So I'll switch books for a while.

I always come back. I would hate for my impatience to ruin a perfectly good book, so that's why I jump between books as much as I do.
Pamela Adams
32. Pam Adams
I start series as I can get them- if they're still beng published, then I just have to wait. (Hurry up, Ivan book!) I may have several bedside books, but often they're either re-reads, where I just want to dip into my favorite chapters, or books that I'm waiting to have time to read properly. (that's you, Wise Man's Fear!) If I stop a book in the middle to read another, it's often a sign that I don't really like it and am debating returning to it.

When I am in the mood for a re-read, or when I start a new-to-me series, I try to read as straight through as I can, and, if possible, in internal chronological order. I just finished a batch of the Anthony Price books, and the only reason that I picked up others during the two week or so period was that I was waiting for the new ones to get to my library. (Thanks for the tip on these by the way!)

Like you, I re-read the Aubrey/Maturin books straight through when the project started- of course, I then had to skim them again when they appeared for discussion.
Jo Walton
33. bluejo
Well this is all very interesting.

I see it as like going from meat to ice-cream and back, to go with that analogy.

As for the TV comparison, among the things I have always utterly loathed about TV is this thing where a programme is broadcast for half an hour once a week at a specific time, and you have to wait all week for more, and after it there's something else completely whiplashingly different. Yuck.

I have never owned a TV, but it seems to me that modern habits of TV watching -- downloading shows, and buying DVDs of whole seasons -- are a vast improvement in this regard, breaking the tyranny of timing and forced waiting.

(The thing I hate most about TV is somebody plopping themselves down in front of it and cycling through the channels randomly until they hit on the least bad option available and then watching it. This also seems to be less of an issue these days, thank goodness.)
Ryan MacDonald
34. Phishmanr
I always have at least 6 books started, and sometimes am in the middle of 20+, some books take years to read (Moby Dick, Infinite Jest) others take a couple days (Lord of the Rings, anything by Douglas Coupland - even in the case where I it takes a short while, I still end up reading something else in the middle), I just read whatever I feel like at the time. Often, if it takes me a really long time to read a book (as in the case of Moby Dick) I just need more time to digest what's going on, sometimes to savor it, sometimes to understand exactly what's happening. In the meantime I move on to something else. I used to get frustrated with how long it took me to finish things, but I'm pretty happy now with moving through them at whatever pace works for me.
Birgit
35. birgit
When I read a book for the first time, I usually read it fast without breaks for other books. When I'm rereading a book and an interesting new one comes out, I sometimes take a break with the old book to read the new one in between.
When I reread a series I usually reread the whole series (at least when the series is one long story and not different stories in the same universe). When a new book in a series comes out, I don't always reread the whole series first (I just reread the last Harry Potter for comparison with the movie; I forgot to reread that before the first part came out).
I'm following the WoT and ASoIaF rereads with two chapters a week. That leaves time for other books to read in between.
13xforever
36. L. Lawson
I definitely don't read, or re-read, them in a row. When I read them, I read them in publication order as well--not chronological order, internal to the series. I read 6-10 books at a time, one for each context I'm in, so I like a lot of variety. Reading several in a row, even of GRRM (who's my absolute favorite), would be a bit much for me.
Clark Tracy
37. claatra
I try never to read the same author twice in a month. I like the feeling of deja vu when I run into a reference to something that happened in a previous book that I had forgotten in the space between readings. I also think this helps me better remember a series because I have to work to remember over the course of six months or a year the previous four or five books.

I also read four or five books at a time. I blame university where I made the poor decision of majoring in history and minoring in English, so through a semester I would always switch back and fourth between personal reading and class reading, and once I graduated the habit stayed with me. But, once I get to seven or eight books I'll generally pick one or two to stay with and take the bookmarks out (or delete with ebooks) of the others because it gets overwhelming, and eight books is more than I can finish in a month, unless they're all short.
Michael Pauli
38. Michael Pauli
I'm also in the habit of reading multiple books at a time or stoping a series in the middle or after each book.

I guess one part is that I often don't want the story to end. It's kind of strange, but when a story ends it kind of dies. Sure, I can re-read it anytime I want, but it is like having a memory of a loved one, which you can visit again and again, but you can't have a new conversation with him anymore.

The second reason -and I have to admit that honestly- is that I'm often undecided, if the book I'm currently reading is the best or most interesting book of all the books I own, but didn't read so far. So just to make sure, I check out other books I have and see, if I like them less, more or even.

But why do I have so many unread books? Because as much as I love reading books I love anticipating to read a book. For example, I bought "A wise man's fear" by Patrick Rothfuss directly on the day, it hit the shelves, cause I loved "The name of the wind". But I haven't read it so far. Thinking about revisiting this world gives me a lot of pleasure, without reading the actual book.
Therefore, one of my favorite activities is to read tons of book reviews and trying to imagine how it would be to read a certain book or series. If the imagined feeling is good, I buy the book(s).

So, I always have roughly 100 books lying around, which I haven't read yet. But my anticipation is not only directed to one of them at a time and therefore I tend to read 2, 3 or 4 at the same time. And whenever I buy a new book, I tend to read the prologue and the first chapter right away to get an even better understanding of the world I'm going to dive in at some point within the next days, weeks, months or even years.
It really seems pretty strange, but the diversity of hopping through books, anticipating reads, continuing unfinished stories and trying to do all at the same time, is a way I really enjoy...as simple as that.

And, as mentioned by others, the Kindle is the perfect enabler for readers like me. Want a sample, yes please. Want to read 3-4 books at once, no problem.
Becky Hantsbarger
39. BeckyIA
Wow. I'm with Ms. Walton...I will wait for YEARS for the series to be complete so I can sit down and devour it all at once. I generally only have one book at a time going because that's where I want to be at that moment in time. My TBR stacks are excessive (to say the least!), so I can get away with the waiting.
13xforever
40. Ingrid
To me it is a waste of a good writer to read all their books in one gulp, be they series or separate books. What was wonderful in the first book, may get repetitive in the fourth or fifth book. I try to put at least a couple of weeks between books to prevent this.
As I get older, I read less, and have less patience with books. When I was young, I used to finish everything. Now I sometimes abandon books 50 pages from the end. I put them down and go to sleep, and I never seem to get back to them.
Emmet O'Brien
41. EmmetAOBrien
Anthony Price, as mentioned by PamAdams@32, is one of my prime examples for reading in publication order over chronological order, actually; in that there is pacing of the information revealed when one does it that way that gets completely messed up if one reads chronologically.

Likewise, I would argue that the events of a certain extremely significant night that unfold as people become aware of them and figure them out over the first three of Steven Erikson's Malazan books are a lot more satisfying read that way than starting with the story of that night told more directly, in the chronologically earlier but later published Night of Knives, which also gives away a "character A is really character B" moment that's quite effective in the later books.

I apply the same line of reasoning to the Vorkosigan books and the Vlad books; not to series that tell one overarcing linear narrative like Song of Ice and Fire, though. I tend to read the structure of Dragon as possibly indicative of Steven Brust's feelings on the matter.
13xforever
42. Yoon Ha Lee
I do this all the time--for fiction or nonfiction (most of my pleasure reading is actually nonfiction reading). I think there are two big reasons: (a) my attention span is horrible, I mean really really horrible, and (b) I crave variety. I get more entertainment out of my books if I'm allowed to graze among several than if I feel chained down to a single book. Sure, it may take me months to finish an otherwise fast-reading paperback (I think it took me something like four months to read a Battletech novel recently), but since I'm not in any races and I'm not reading for anyone but myself, I'm okay with this.

I also sometimes find, especially with nonfiction, that interesting cross-connections spark in my brain when I jump between disparate topics, and this can be useful story-fodder, but this is more of a side-effect and I'd be reading this way even if I didn't write.
13xforever
43. BlueRose
It really depends on what mood I am in, and the accessibility of the books. If Im in the mood for a major series reread then I will sit down and devour those - usually in the published order but sometimes if I feel it fits better, in the internal chronological.

If its a big series I might take a breather with another smaller lighter book or two to keep it fresh.

Also I get a lot of stuff out of the library, and I have to wait for the next one to arrive, so I have to be flexible in reading habits.

Yes I am a simultaneous multiple book reader. Why? because I get bored, or interrupted in some way that affects my mental flow. Its mostly about my mental state and what I need at the time - take Way of Kings - took 3 weeks to finish it as I chipped away at it slowly and read other books at the same time. Yet Name of the Wind I read in about 3 days with no interruptions.

When I am quite stressed I need lighter easier to digest books - Nora Roberts is a good option here :) and a lot of urban fantasy too. And my attention span is shorter as well.
13xforever
44. Haerodiel
I'm currently in the middle of a series consisting of 7 books. For my 10 weeks of summer semester here at college, I brought 4 regular sized books, and 5 very small ones. Of these books, only 1 is part of the series I'm reading.

I break up a series for a couple reasons. The first is the sheer amount of books I want to read. There are the books I own that I have not yet read, books I don't own yet that I want to read, and books that I'm only marginally interested, but friends want me to read. I love to read, but I tend to be distracted by other things I enjoy doing, so it takes me a little while to read a book. To stick to a series is to neglect all the other books I really want to read. I know it won't make me read them any faster, but it makes me really sad when I see a book that I really, really want to read sitting on my shelf for a year not being read because "I have to finish this series first."

Secondly, it's a nice change of pace. A quick breath of fresher air. I can totally understand the not wanting to re-acclimate yourself to a world and it's characters, but it's nice to take a break. For me at least.

Lastly, it seems to me that the time away from a book contributes much to the enjoyment of a book. Allows you to savor it. This applies with TV shows as well. Time away from the series, whether that's reading another books, or just doing something else, it allows you to contemplate what was happening, the excitement of it, what you enjoy about it, what you hope will happen, the philosophy of the story, character developments, etc. Going through it too fast doesn't allow you as much enjoyment, I've found. The more extreme version of this I've called "overdosing" on a series, TV or book. It's happened to me before where I enjoy the series so much, and have so much time on my hands that I go through massive amounts of material so fast that it's over before I know it. There was so much emotion and enjoyment during it, and more enjoyment in the moments than I was allowing to soak in by flying right on to see what happened next, and over all didn't get as much out of it as I think I could have. Then before I knew it, it was over and done with; just gone. Going back and rewatching/rereading doesn't help this, because the moments are no longer alive. It's like looking back at the past. No more anticipation, suspence, not as much excitement. So taking the time to enjoy things for all that they are worth is really important to me. Taking a break from a series can frequently help in this.
13xforever
45. Jamie L
What's strange about my reading patterns re: this topic is how completely they've changed over the years--although the essential point is still the same. When I was younger, I was always reading more than one book at a time, but I wouldn't even consider breaking up a series (aside from the alternative books, that is): when I finished Book One of something, I promptly started Book Two, even if there was another, totally different book on the backburner.

Now, I really don't like reading more than one thing at a time, although I'll do it if I don't have any other options, but I hardly ever read series installments back-to-back. So you get variety in both patterns, but in completely different ways. If I try reading back-to-back now, I usually burn out after two or three--although I like to wait until there's a natural stopping point, if possible. I think I just want what other people have mentioned--the different taste, or pace--but I've found a particularly weird variation of this occurring with rereading series. If I'm rereading, I almost always can go through the early books one right after another--until I hit the installments that I haven't read as often, where reading the books no longer has that delightful jolt of familiarity (rereading is so much better than reading for the first time). If I don't have the pleasure of anticipating the great bits I know are there, I'm more likely to retreat for a bit and then return, particularly if I remember the book as being less welcoming than its fellows.

So is there a difference between how we read series for the first time vs. how we reread them? (Or even books by the same author, since you're still sort of looking for the same thing?)
Vicki Rosenzweig
46. vicki
I think it's partly (largely?) a matter of mood: sometimes I want something emotionally lighter than others; sometimes I want a more complex book, sometimes I want something more plot-driven, or more about character or exploring invented universes, or something where I'll pay more attention to the words; sometimes I'm up for more complexity than others. And rereading feels different from reading something for the first time (unless it's something that I know, vaguely, that I read in high school, but remember nothing about it), so that's another axis. Or I may be partway through a mystery novel and want to take a break with a different genre.
Lianne Burwell
47. LKBurwell
I generally have two more more books on the go. One is on my Sony Reader, which I take everywhere with me, reading during lunch, in line at the store, and anywhere else where I have a minute to wait. The second will be a paperback for reading in the bathtub. If there's more, it will usually be either a short story collection, a book of essays, or something that I've decided to reread.

As for series, well, I definitely read them in the order they were written, not the chronological order of the events (see Narnia for an example of that). And I simply cannot read to books from a series in a row. I get burnt out on the characters or the world. If I'm reading a series, I need to have at least a couple of books in between.

My mother is one who will happily read a half-dozen books of the same type, one after the other. I can't. I go back and forth between fantasy, sf, mystery, pulp, and non-fiction. Reading the same sort of thing one after another eventually results in me hating it and refusing to touch the subject/series/author for a couple of years.

Currently, I've got Patrick Rothfuss's Wise Man's Fear on my Reader, Steve Englehart's The Long Man from the library, and I am rereading Tea With The Black Dragon by RA MacAvoy (and before that I was going through The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, which I highly recommend).

Next, a contemporary novel about a western woman who after yet another disastrous breakup decides to hire someone to find her a husband. It's called Arranged.
13xforever
48. Staar84
If I'm taking the time to re-read a series, I'll do all of the books straight through. Otherwise I read about 5 books at a time: they're fiction and non-fiction. They're all completely unrelated. That way I have something to read no matter what I'm in the mood for. Right now I'm reading Heartless (Steampunk), A Clash of Kings (High Fantasy), The Sparrow (Sci Fi), and Nerd Do Well (autobiography).

If I try to read all of a new series at once, I get burned out and I don't enjoy it as much. I get bored. I like the analogy someelse used: it would be like eating the exact same thing everyday.
S Barlow
49. Lizzibabe
It depends on the book, and it depends on what I'm reading. I read so much that I wind up with a book for wherever I might be. I've a book for the bathroom, a book for reading with breakfast (Not appropriate for I Am Not A Serial Killer btw), a book for reading during lunch, a book to take to the pool, and an emergency book for the car (a Peter Wimsey mystery). Which means i might be making my way through four books at once. If the book truly grips me and doesn't let me out, then I'll finish it right there and then. But I read so darn fast, that I'm in the story world, and then I'm right back out in a few hours.
Brent Longstaff
50. Brentus
I do it because I don't have as nearly much time to read as I'd like (that would be 24/7), so it takes a while to get through the kind of series I like to read (right now I'm reading the Malazan books). So I stop and read other shorter things on the way because they look good and I don't want to wait until I've finished the long series to start a new one. And I'm not always in the mood for Malazan. And since I commute a lot, I need books that are available on audio (which Malazan isn't) so I'm also reading the Shadowmarch books that way.
13xforever
51. maribou
I usually prefer to read one book at once as well, Jo, but I often find myself reading several instead. More often than not. The reasons why I do it aren't that interesting, mostly having to do with being forgetful, always wanting to be reading something when I can be, doing most of my reading in 15-60 minute snatches by necessity, and not always having the brainpower or emotional energy to manage the thing I most want to be reading... but the reasons why I *can* do it might be more explanatory?

For me, reading multiple books is akin to coexisting in a few different universes at once, and focusing my attention into one or another of them depending on which book I've just opened. So when I open a book, I'm generally completely immersed in it within less than a couple of pages (especially if it's a novel, especially especially if it's good), and when I'm forced by circumstance to put it down, I am still in some strange way reading-that-book-in-suspension, rather than having let it go - it's just a held breath in one of many mental voices, a presence in the top layer of my underthinking, even if it takes me a few days to get back to it. There's no whiplash because I'm always already *there*.

I can read 4 or 5 books at once and spread my interest between them in this way, but if I try to switch between more, I either lose that feeling about some of them or start to feel like a complete nutter. And I can't stay suspended in a book for more than about a week between times spent actually reading it, anyway. Though with series the connection does come back very quickly, and there are some worlds I love so well I never quite leave them.

I just came up with this explanation tonight, but it's ringing true for me. It doesn't contradict either the way I still sometimes fall into a mad passion with a book and refuse to interact with anyone or do anything until I've finished it *or* my discomfort with multiple-author short-story anthologies (which do give me whiplash, more often than not). So, er, I hope it was somewhat illuminating for you as well. Thanks for asking!
13xforever
52. Rush-That-Speaks
*blinks*

Huh. It's physically possible to be reading only one book at the same time? Who knew?

I know that I started reading multiple books at once at a very young age because of the speed problem. I read too fast. Let us say, for instance, that my father went out and bought a book in which I was interested, which happened frequently. He would put it down and go make dinner or take his socks off or what have you, and in twenty-thirty minutes I would get about a hundred pages into the book. Then he would insist on his rights as the buyer, take it away from me, and be reading it for the next two weeks. What does one do but start something else?

Multiply this by two parents and add the fact that my mother is compulsively tidy and will put away anything left on a table, where by 'away' I mean where she thinks it goes. If I wasn't carrying a book on my person as a child there was a good chance I'd come back into a room and not be able to locate the thing I'd been reading, sometimes for annoyingly long stretches of time. I'd come back from school and not be able to find the book I'd had the night before. She'd tidy my room, that was a nightmare. And she'd take things back to the library and insist it was doing me a favor.

All this gives one the ability to hold the memory of what's gone on in a book for a very long time. So interchanging books doesn't bother me any-- I'll fall right back into the mood of the book and be able to find my place, even if I put it down six months ago. As a consequence, I don't read series consecutively, mostly. It doesn't improve the experience if I do; I'm much more likely to notice any samenesses in the construction of plot. If I tried to read, say, all the Dresden Files books consecutively, it would drive me nuts, because they all have the same voice and work to a similar plot schema, and I can see the nuts and bolts if I overdose. Spread them out and I can enjoy each one more.
Ian Gazzotti
53. Atrus
23@Jhirrad : And what's wrong with choosing to wait? :) As many others have said here, not only it prolongs the pleasure of a story or a setting, but it also avoid burnout, which comes pretty easy to me with long series or prolific authors.

When I started watching Babylon 5 on DVD I consumed two seasons in a matter of days, then I started watching an episode every few days because I realized I wasn't enjoying myself any more - it was too much, too soon.
For me, it's the same with books: whether it's a series of novels, short stories, or even a single book, sometimes I find it better to stop reading and wait, or read something else for a while, otherwise I find myself sludging through the book when I could really be enjoying it.

Of course, there are also times when a new book arrives and it demands that I read it NOW and, in that case, the other book(s) I'm reading get temporarily put on hold.
13xforever
54. br27
I will generally read a series in publication order for two reasons. First, authors change their style over time and it can be jarring to jump around by reading based on internal order. Second, I tend to assume the author chose to publish the stories in that order for a reason. The author and publisher assume the reader is familiar with the preceding book, so switching to internal order can lead to a lot of redundant pages or missing information the reader has to supply from memory.

When re-reading a series, I will often switch to something else after each book for good reason. No matter how much I like a series, there are always minor annoyances or author quirks. In larger chunks, those often reduce my enjoyment as I get more focused on the problems and less on the strengths. Reading another book lets me return to the series with a fresh mind open to the enjoyment and no pent up frustration with the problems.
Peter Stone
55. Peter1742
Usually, I'm reading two books: I just finished reading Among Others (brilliant, Jo!), and am rereading Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (also brilliant!). There are some books that I can't read too fast, either because they're heavy or difficult or because they have some indefinable don't read me too fast quality. Among Others has that quality. When I get one of these books, I need another book as well, because otherwise I will end up reading it too fast, and it's nowhere near as fun that way. Now that I've finished Among Others, I'll look for another book that can't be read too fast to read with the Martin, because otherwise I'm wasting a good opportunity to read a slow book. If I have three or four books that can't be read too fast, I'll read them all simultaneously, but I find it's better to read just two books at the same time, because then you're switching between fewer plots and characters.
David Dyer-Bennet
56. dd-b
Nice job of qualification, Jo. In the last decade or so I've acquired the ability and habit to be reading multiple books at once, but it's always for practical reasons, never by unconstrained choice.

When I started reading books in electronic form (back around 1996) it suddenly became too much trouble to haul around a hardcover, and I learned to cope with being in the middle of two books at once. I've also listened to...two, I think, books in audio form, and I did that "on top of" other books. More recently, my carry bag isn't even capable of holding a paperback; my on-the-go reading is now always electronic (currently, on my Android phone).

I suspect that the delays between episodes is part of the reason I don't like TV so much. At this point most of the TV I've watched is on DVD, where I control the timing and pacing. (And the other part is that TV episodes are structured to be viewed by people who have watched lots of other things since the last episode -- meaning to me they seem rather diffuse.)

And I know that one reason I managed not to take any lit courses in college is that it was clear they would interfere seriously with my reading, and that just wasn't an option.
Lon Bailey
57. lgwbailey
in a slightly different vein, I am re-reading the David Drake RCN series, but on paperback, epub (on deidcated reader & as phone app) and kindle (as phone app) at the same time. the Kindle app allows sepia toned pages which is easier on the eye than the white of Aldiko epub app. The phone with epub/kindle accompanies me in public transport where even my sony ebook reader is a bit too big (cramped London Underground trains) but at home and in my chair, it is paper... the main difficulty is to get back to the same page in different formats... any cross-gadget/ cross format synchronisation ideas?
13xforever
58. jharris22586
I do it because I take immense pleasure in the act of choosing to emerse myself in a world/plot/characters' life and likewise, the act of choosing to leave it. When I look at my bookshelf, I see each book as a door into another world--which thrills me in its scope and my own power (the power to choose where I'll go/what I'll read). So, knowing that I have choices, to finish book A or B, to leave book A for B, to stay with book B but know book A is still un finished, is incredibly pleasurable because it makes me feel like I have the power to transport myself anywhere and get back to a story at any time. It's basically a power trip.
Caroline Kierstead
59. ctkierst
I have to read one book at a time, and I usually (where I can) read an entire series straight through. Publication order preferred. Just too compulsive to want to split it up, though lack of availability or library books having to be returned impact things.
George V. Reilly
60. georgevreilly
I have half-a-dozen books going at any one time: one or two on my nightstand, a technical book or two, one each on my iPhone, Nook, and Android tablet, and so on.

I spent five years re-reading the Aubrey-Maturin series, spreading them out one every few months so that I could savor them. I finished them at Christmas. At the New Year, I started re-reading them again, more or less back-to-back, with only a few other books thrown in. I finished book 21 yesterday. Both ways worked for me, but the marathon left me a little tired of O'Brian, at least for now.

I started re-reading A Game of Thrones this morning and I'll work through the other Ice and Fire books, so that they're fresh in my mind for A Dance with Dragons.

I don't have a great memory for what I've read so that a re-read always has enjoyable surprises for me.
13xforever
61. Genarti
I do this pretty much constantly. It's a question of what I'm in the mood for, really; sometimes I want something witty and fast-moving, and sometimes I want something that makes my brain work harder to keep track of the story, and sometimes I want something that stretches out of my comfort zone, and quite frequently I want non-fiction rather than fiction (except, of course, when I don't.) If I pick up something that's not the kind of book I'm in the mood for, then yes, sometimes I get involved in it anyway, but other times it starts feeling like a chore instead of fun. "I will read this book, because I AM READING THIS BOOK," even if I was enjoying it enormously yesterday or last week. That's much less true if it's my only option -- say, if I went out for the day and only put one book in my purse -- but if I'm at home with all my bookshelves, I'll pick one of the five or six I have going depending on what I feel like reading.

The first couple of posters' food metaphors made lots of sense to me. Sometimes I'm in the mood for stir-fry, and sometimes I want a sandwich. They're both delicious, but if I have an easy choice I'll opt for the one I want more at the moment.
13xforever
62. Urstoff
Sunk costs are sunk costs. If I'm not enjoying a book, there's a high probability that there's something else out there I'd enjoy more. Lots of times a stop reading a book for awhile and read something else. We all have this psychological impulse to complete books, but it's only that: an impulse. Even I finish books that I shouldn't have. I should have quit Absolution Gap instead of finishing it (and I'm much worse off after finishing it). I should have stopped reading Rainbows End after 100 pages; I didn't like any of the characters or find the conflict particularly interesting, and after finishing it, I still didn't like any of the characters or find the conflict interesting. YMMV with these books as with every other book, but we're all fairly experienced readers here. It's not too hard to tell when a book is going to continue being unenjoyable. With a bad book, there is no desire to find out what happens next.

Now, that's not quite what the post was about, but it's easy to apply it: you may be somewhat enjoying a book, but there is some other book that you will enjoy more if you stop reading the first one and instead read it. So why not quit the book only part of the way through?
Thomas Voldset
63. Insvims
Great blog post by Jo Walton, and lots of good replies here.

For years I have bought books because I have read good reviews and sample chapters, or even because they look nice and interesting in the book store (nice covers appeal to me). This resulted in many half read, or even just started, books on my shelves. At some point I realised I had to stop. I am a slow reader, and I understood that I would never be able to finish all those books (series) I had started.

I could be in the middle of a book I really enjoyed, and then put it aside to start something new. Sometimes I never got back to the previous book, and the whole thing became overwhelming (to me as a slow reader).

After I got my Kindle I decided to start fresh, and not read more than a couple of books (series) at the same time. I am a type that like to immerse completely into something, and finish it, so for my own good I need to have few, but focused projects at any given time.

Still I like some variation, so I allow myself to read two books or series simultaneously. Preferably one fantasy and one SF book.

Now I am immersed in WoT (just started book 2). The other book I am reading is Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings. Both fantasy, but while waiting for the next book in Sanderson's new epic (and after finishing The Way of Kings) I might start a SF series in addition to my WoT read (considering Alastair Reynolds).
Alana Abbott
64. alanajoli
I am usually a read-it-all-at-once girl (though not always with series), but with my reading schedule, sometimes I have to double up. Right now I've got books to review for a couple of different periodicals, the finalists from the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, and books from my own TBR pile calling for my attention. Given those different reasons for reading, I will sometime pick up whichever book is closest to hand -- I might have an upstairs book and a downstairs book, for example, or a hardcover, a paperback, and an e-book all going at the same time.
13xforever
65. mirana
Oh good lord, my husband does this exact thing ALL the time and I can't understand it either. I typically read a single book at a time, and if I like the series, all of it in order. Currently he's reading about 10-12 books AT ONCE. He even sometimes takes 2-3 with him to read on breaks at work, and not because he's about to finish one. Some of those are comics, but even I prefer to read those cover to cover before the next thing. I used to wonder why his bookmarks tended to be reciepts and scraps of paper, but now I know better. Some of the books he's been reading for YEARS, and I think he's given up, and then lo and behold he'll suddenly be reading it again. I would have to re-read if I took that long. I've tried asking him about it, but he just shrugs and says he likes reading that way. I guess I'll never know for sure.

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