A common question I get asked is, “How can you remember what you read or where you left off at if you’re reading multiple books in a day or week?”. You can read multiple books at a time and more books in a year by reading in context. Choosing a time, place or activity that is consistent with a particular book you are reading. Reading multiple books at a time doesn’t have to be a game of bumper cars, you have lanes to read in. 

By reading multiple books at a time, you also allow yourself natural pauses between each book for the information to store more effectively. Taking notes or using post-it flags will also help you smoothly resume and recall information, although it isn’t necessary for every book.  Trying to read multiple books without structure, routine and a context in which you read creates frustration, confusion, and reduced ability to recall what you’ve read.

So how does context based reading work?

Well it doesn’t apply to just reading, Psychologists have demonstrated that information recall is context dependent.1 With context-dependent memory, we have an improved ability to remember when the context is the same as where the memory first formed.

For example, if I have three books to read: How to Win Friends and Influence People, The 48 Laws of Power and Man’s Search for Meaning.

How to Win Friends and Influence People would be my morning book that I would read while I’m eating breakfast or on my way to work and back home, while The 48 Laws of Power would be my night time book which I read before I go to bed.The third book, Man’s Search for Meaning, would be my weekend book.

We already do many other activities in context or in some scheduled format. When I was a little kid, I didn’t wonder to myself “How am I going to watch all these shows!”. I picked the shows I liked and would have my weekday morning cartoons, after school I would watch my after school programs and before bed I would watch my primetime cartoons or other series. And how could I forget my Saturday morning cartoons, which were a ritual so grand, I would ask my mom to cancel conflicting doctors appointments, so I wouldn’t miss the latest episodes, or get spoiled by my friends the Monday I went back to class in elementary school.

By separating your reading by time period and or day your brain knows that it’s picking up right where it left off.

Reading Too Many Books at Once

It’s possible to be in a position where you start too many books and don’t finish any. This is from spreading your focus too thin and not making enough progress on one book before you decide to add another book to read.

Focus on getting a quarter or halfway through one book before you take on another. Same thing for the second book when you want to add a third. By doing this you create enough reading momentum and commitment where you can feel for which book you want to be your primary read.

Keeping a reading log and using sites like Goodreads will assist you in managing your flow of books.

Reading multiple books that are bad is obviously a problem, that can significant de-motivate you from reading altogether. You consider the quality of things you put into your body, consider the quality of the things you take into your mind.

Not Enough Time To Read

When I hear “not enough time to read”, then I learn it’s not much of a priority on your end. The time wouldn’t matter if it was a higher priority because you would make it work. Think about how much time you spend on the numerous activities in your life. In most cases “entertainment activities” are plentiful for opportunities to cut back on.

I’ve had my workaholic phases, and even then I realized I can get reading in, even AT WORK. How? Well, I realized going to lunch and talking about the same trivial stuff each week probably could be better balanced. So I try to set aside 2 out of the 5 lunches, where I can have lunch by myself and get some reading in. If this seems promising to you, but you still don’t have time even during “lunch break”, then you may have some other work problems you need to handle.

For The Curious

Reading multiple books at a time allows you to spread your curiosity far and wide. I used to think that reading multiple books in parallel was out of my league; I just needed to get through one to raise the victory flag. I was setting limits on myself, that shouldn’t have been set. Sometimes your attention will jump from one book to the next, and that’s ok. Your mind is at play. Enjoy the authors works of craft. Enjoy the stories, lessons, and sparks of inspiration that help make you a better and happier person. 

Give it a try:

  1. Start small, work your way through a quarter of one book a chapter at a time, then find another context to read the second book. 
  2. Take notes to engage more with what you read.
  3. Give yourself breaks to reflect on what you read.
  4. Keep a reading log to keep track of what you read and better manage multiple books.
  5. Finish good books. Reading multiple books doesn’t makes sense without finishing some.

“So many books, so little time.”
Frank Zappa

Footnotes:

  1. Context-dependent memory in two learning environments: the tutorial room and the operating theatre – http://bmcmededuc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6920-13-118

Also published on Medium.