IVP - Behind the Books - How Many Books Are You Reading?

March 3, 2008

How Many Books Are You Reading?

The other day I counted and my son is currently reading four books at the same time. I am so proud! Spencer is in third grade, and now books are long enough that he doesn't just sit and read them straight through.

While eating breakfast he is reading a book from the school library called Eoin Colfer's Legend of . . . Spud Murphy. After school he is reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder for a school project. Each night before bed he reads with his grandfather via speaker phone. They have just started a Tom Swift story that belonged to my grandfather. Then after we say prayers he reads a bit more on his own. He just finished Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and started SuperFudge.

Watching him read all of these books gives me pleasure because that's how I read. I've got a book for morning prayer and another for evening prayer (when I get to it). Then I've got a spirituality text that I'm reading for work. While driving to work, I usually have an audio book to listen to in the car--often something funny. At nighttime I have a bit of useful nonfiction as well as a novel by the bed. (All this is not to mention all of the manuscripts in various states I'm reading at work!)

Why do we read this way? There's just so many exciting and interesting books to tackle. I can't always wait till one is done to start the next.

Of course not everyone sees it that way. When I enthusiastically told my husband (an engineer) of Spencer's multi-book-reading achievement, he said, "Oh no, he's got the disease."

Posted by Cindy Bunch at March 3, 2008 7:50 PM Bookmark and Share


That's how I read, too. It's so much fun. :-)

Let's see, right now I'm in the middle of three or four actively, and another couple I haven't touched for a while, not to mention the borrowed books I really need get on with and get back to their owners... I have long-suffering friends. :-)

Comment by: Pinon Coffee at March 4, 2008 12:20 PM

I have the disease, too, but thought I was the only one!

I typically have eight to ten books going at one time: something from the Bible and another book in the morning, five or so for evening and weekend reading, one at work for lunch breaks, and usually another that I'm reading with my small group at church.

Though my wife and most friends find it strange, I think of it more like television: I certainly don't feel compelled to watch every episode of Law & Order before I can start watching Big Love or Letterman.

I just counted on my LibraryThing page and realized I'd finished 52 books in the last year. With this 10-at-a-time habit, I wasn't consciously shooting for one a week, but I guess I hit it.

Comment by: iowaboy277 at March 4, 2008 12:35 PM

Thank you for validating me. I have borrowed books too! Currently I have three books waiting to be read on serving on non-profit boards. They belong to our Publisher so I shouldn't dawdle over them.

Comment by: Cindy Bunch at March 4, 2008 12:38 PM

A little context is needed with regard to my comment on the disease. I must be attracted to book people due to my childhood environment. It is not only Cindy and Spencer who have the disease, but also my father. He reads a book a night for enjoyment. And these are not small books. They are more than a couple hundred pages. He can cover a page in a few seconds and remembers what he read. When we grew up we had an entire upstairs hallway with built in book shelfs. It was 8' by 12'. I never told Cindy this before. I think I must have blocked it from my memory or did not want to give her any ideas that this was ok. It is not just Cindy either, but the IVP editorial department. If you go to Al's house, there are book shelves everywhere. Do they even have other furniture or wall coverings? Andy's front room has a book shelf covering the wall facing the street. My house has piles of books in three different rooms and also spilling out of closets.

Comment by: Dan Sullivan at March 4, 2008 1:10 PM

I always say I've got the 30-book pile beside the bed. The key question for me is not why I read this way but what can make me actually come to finish a book now and then. Recently I decided that book clubs are a good motivation to get at least one book permanently off the pile every few months.

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at March 4, 2008 1:12 PM

Oh goodness! I read maybe two books at a time, if that (not including the Bible and studies). I just like to read a book and finish it straight through, and concentrate on it. I think otherwise I don't retain as much. Once in a while, if I get a book from the library I had reserved that I really want to read I will "pause" my current reading to read that entire book, but never two at once.

Is that why I'm in the Marketing department? ;)

Right now I'm actually in the middle of Stone Crossings....

Comment by: Helen at March 4, 2008 1:56 PM

Re: Dan Sullivan's Comments

Scene 1: Soon after my girlfriend metamorphosized into my fiancee (an overly-long process, from her perspective), she wandered through my apartment and saw things with new eyes. "So,... are all those books coming with you?"

"Yes," I said. "And I'm buying more too."

This launched a conversation about whether I would give up books for her (and whether she would give up breathing oxygen for me) and what would happen (theoretically) if a book-elimination ultimatum was issued (note the passive) in the post-marriage future. A person willing to live with a profoundly unhappy spouse could issue such an ultimatum, I allowed.

Scene 2: When we moved to New Jersey, our movers demonstrated preternatural skill in estimating the number of boxes needed to pack our books -- and their weight. "About 1200 lbs," he noted.*

This horrified my wife.

Me? I'm thrilled. When people come to visit and say, "Wow -- you have a ton of books", I can say, "Not really. But don't worry -- I'm working towards it!"

*I also have books stashed at my office and at my parents' home in sufficent quantities to move me well into the 2000 lbs range.

I hope it's okay, Dan, but I hope to share your
father's interior decorating scheme with my wife. It sounds delightful! (Hi, Dan! Good to see you again, if only in cyberspace.)

Comment by: Greg Jao at March 4, 2008 4:53 PM

Okay, I'm actively seeking a 12-Step Group. I'll alert you when I've scheduled the first meeting. But first I have to finish HOW TO ORGANIZE RECOVERY GROUPS FOR FOR THE BOOK-ADDICTED.

Comment by: christa Allan at March 4, 2008 5:34 PM

I think the difference in reading styles is basically the difference between Js and Ps on the Myers-Briggs. Anecdotally, it seems that Js (who like closure) tend to work straight through books, one after the other, while Ps (who are okay leaving things open-ended) tend to have stacks of books on the nightstand, each with a bookmark one or two chapters in. I've had as many as three dozen books on my nightstand "in process," and Ellen says that I can't really claim to be still reading it if it's been sitting there bookmarked for two years.

And what Dan saw at our house is what was left after we moved and purged several hundred books! I think we only have fourteen bookcases now.

Comment by: Al Hsu at March 5, 2008 8:13 AM

Hmm, Al, that must make me an X on that Myers-Briggs preference. I'm a 10-books-at-a-time guy, but with the rare exception of a book I consciously decide to abandon (which then gets its bookmark removed and is promptly returned to the library or sold on Amazon), I can't stand to let an in-process book sit unread for any extended time.

Comment by: iowaboy277 at March 5, 2008 8:24 AM

Helen, I'm honored to be amongst the very few you are reading right now. I hope you enjoy it!

Greg, I was reading your response and thinking "this person is hilarious", and wondering all the time whose name would be at the bottom. You!! I shouldn't have been surprised. Now the question is where you are required to sequester those books. Mine are in the attic (minus the 30 at the bedside).

And, Al, that's an interesting thought. I'm very much a person of closure, but somehow not when it comes to books. Hmmm... does that somehow take me off the scale?

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at March 5, 2008 11:12 AM

oh yes, Al. The J thing. :)

I am not allowed to bring any more books home, due to the fact our two bookshelves are jam packed. And I have two boxes on the floor. And more in storage. And my childhoos books at my parents. So my office is slowly filling up.

All this from my husband who has never been a very big reader, and seemingly have 5 or so books started lying around the house....

Yes, L.L. Very much so.

Comment by: Helen at March 5, 2008 11:18 AM

I would like to add that my art history professor in college had a wall of books behind his desk. He told me that when someone asks you "Have you read all these books?", you should say "some them twice!" I've used it many, many times.

I also have to say that I feel like when I find a apartment/house where there's room to keep all of my book on shelves and out of boxes, that's when I'll feel like I'm out of college and truly an adult. We recently decided to move a few boxes worth of books to the basement because we needed more space and I almost cried.

Comment by: Taryn at March 5, 2008 11:48 AM

Myers-Briggs, Byers-Schmiggs. Al thinks M-B explains everything! ;-)

Look. Books are not commodities to be consumed. They are the voices of friends, or potential friends. Or even enemies. Do we have to hear everything they have to say in one sitting, or have no conversations with other friends in between conversations with one? And when you're done with a friend, do you sell him or her off on e-bay? Sheesh!

Okay. Forget the friends approach. Let's say they are entertainment. Well, they are serialized entertainment. Each chapter is an episode. Can you only watch one episode of "Lost" each week and not mix it up with other TV shows?

Or they are a series of lectures. Maybe one-book-at-a-timers prefer to take their academic courses in sequential blocks of intensive courses. Not I!

If you even know off-hand how many books you are reading at once, you're not a *real* book lover!

Comment by: Dan Reid at March 5, 2008 1:49 PM

Dan R. only says that because of his particular Myers-Briggs. ;-)

And many of us probably have certain "friends" that we wish we could sell off on eBay! I think all of us make some sort of mental evaluation that place books in various categories such as "must read every page and keep forever," "worth having on hand, even if only for occasional reference," "important but impenetrable book that will never be read but sits on the shelf to make me look intelligent," and "worthless drivel that must be cast into the abyss of Goodwill donation boxes."

I also make a cost-benefit analysis weighing whether the book is important enough for me to keep (and for it to take up valuable shelf space) when it might be more greatly appreciated by another reader, especially if someone is eager to pay a premium for something that's out of print. I once owned a hardcover set of the Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, and I never touched it. So I sold it online for $100 or so. Ditto with some Anchor Bible Commentaries that I found at a used bookstore for six or seven bucks but was able to resell for $35-50 each. Maybe that's mere profiteering, but it could also be seen as providing a service to others who are seeking such books and will get more use of them than me (better a book be used elsewhere than sit unread on my shelf). Of course, the money I make from selling books often just goes into purchasing new ones, and the cycle continues again . . .

Comment by: Al Hsu at March 6, 2008 8:04 AM

I dunno, Al. There are plenty of books on my shelves I don't always look at often, but cannot part with. Like my complete box set of Laura Ingalls books that was my mom's. Or the 1972 Del Monte cookbook next to the 1986 McCall's cooking school book (where every other recipe includes gelatin...). I think childhood books and other classics are meant to sit around and be cherished and re-read. But other books...you're right, they can go and make room for more. But I generally only purchase things like cookbooks or reference, etc. Most of my reading material comes from the library (or my work copies!)

Comment by: Helen at March 6, 2008 9:18 AM

I hear you, Helen. There are a lot of books that I keep for sentimental reasons as well. I have a whole box of Choose Your Own Adventures and teen novels from junior high that I can't bear to part with. In that sense, these books are the "friends" that Dan Reid talks about that you stick with for relational reasons. But they often go in storage and don't take up shelf space!

Comment by: Al Hsu at March 6, 2008 10:39 AM

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