8 Reason Why You Shouldn’t Read Multiple Books at Once

reading multiple books
It is tempting to read multiple books at once, but it is better to focus on just one.

I know people who read multiple books at once, but I am not one of them. In the past, I’ve tried reading many books at once, but it didn’t work, so now I stick to one at a time.

For most people, it would be best to only read one book at a time. But if you are an avid reader who gets through tons of books a year, you might be able to handle multiple books at once.

Some people may disagree and say I am wrong; they will advocate reading many books at once, but I disagree.

If you are looking to be a more productive reader, who isn’t already reading 100’s of books a year, this list should help you finish more books.

1) You Read Boring Books

A few months ago, I talked to a co-worker about books; he told me that he hadn’t gotten through a book in years. He said he had started lots of books, but after reading them for a couple of days, he would put them down and forget about them. He said, “I’ve got so many cool books in my apartment, but I have not finished any of them.” While he was telling me this story, I could tell what his problem was.

I told him, your story makes me think of this book that I’ve read a couple of times. We talked about the book, and I told him, I’ll bring it in for you tomorrow and you can take a look at it. The next day, I brought him the book and told him he could borrow it for as long as he wanted. Later in the week, he told me he was half done. A couple of weeks later, he was finished, and he was so happy and he said, “this is the first book I have finished in years!”

What had happened with my co-worker, and so many other people I know, is that they pick up books that they think they are supposed to like or have been told are cool, and they try to read them.

The problem is that just because someone else says a book is good doesn’t mean it is.

On top of this, if you aren’t used to reading books, it’s going to be especially difficult to finish a 500-page nonfiction book about something you know nothing about.

Most people seem to believe that if they are going to read, they better be learning something. But the problem is that learning books usually aren’t all that fun, fiction is fun, and that is why people write it; it exists for entertainment.

As far as I can tell, people usually read multiple books at once because they get bored with one book and move on. If you enjoy reading a book, then it is a good book that you aren’t going to want to put down. For myself, when I get into a book, I don’t want to stop reading it and read it every chance I get. For this reason, I can say, if you like the book you are reading, you won’t want to look at any others until you are finished.

If you are having trouble finishing books, then you need to learn how to pick better books.

2) Focused Readers Read More Books

Before I started to write this article, I was checking out what other people were saying about reading multiple books at once. Many of the people who thought it was a good idea listed off all the books they were reading. When I saw the lists, the only thing I could think of was ‘where is their focus’. To me, it seems impossible to have any focus on any single book if you have ten on the go, so then the question becomes, what are these people even doing?

I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but focusing on one book means that is where my attention is. Focus also means that all my reading energy goes towards one book. A small caveat here is that if I don’t want to focus on a book, or can’t get into it, the amount of reading I am doing goes way down. When that happens, it is time to toss the book and move onto something better, but to be fair, that hasn’t happened very often.

By focusing on only one book, you have only one goal, and that is to finish the book you are reading.

If you are reading many books at once, making a small amount of progress in any one book, rewards not having a focus, which is the opposite of what you want.

Focusing on one book helps because when you can only read one book at a time, you need to finish it before you can move on. This means that you will always be incentivized to focus on the book you are reading until it is done. It also helps if there is another book you want to read cause you can’t skip over to that book, you need to finish what you have started first.

3) Reading Books Isn’t Like Surfing the Web

For some reason, now that we all use the internet, we think that other mediums are broken because they aren’t like the web. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, surely the internet is a great tool for learning, but it doesn’t require focus and might actively discourage it.

In many ways, using the internet is like reading multiple books at once cause on the net, you jump from page to page, topic to topic, all the time.

Whenever I pick up my phone to do something, if I don’t keep in mind what my plan is, I get distracted and go on to do something else instead. This may make sense on our phones when we don’t have anything to do. But this is the opposite of the world in which books were invented and is not what we want to be doing while we are reading books.

I see books as a deep dive into something which may be a story or a topic, but the key is that it is focused on only one thing.

When we read a book, our goal is to learn a lot about one topic; we aren’t trying to find multiple things; we are only looking at one specific topic or story. Books were invented in a world where focus and dedication were the norms; we need to try to maintain that context when we read books today.

4) People Suck at Multi-tasking

Everyone knows someone who says that they can multi-task, they claim they can do multiple things at once while doing a great job at each. But even people who say they can do this aren’t being honest, they might be okay at switching tasks, but they aren’t doing both at the same time or level. And, although reading a book isn’t the same as looking at your phone while driving, it is still a type of multi-tasking.

Nobody can really multi-taskOpens in a new tab., even if they say so, what they are doing is jumping their focus from one task to another.

This often means that their focus isn’t all there; instead, it is spread thin. When it comes to reading, you aren’t going to be switching books after each page, but you might be reading multiple books on the same day. When you do this, your mind is bouncing back and forth between what you are reading and what you were reading before.

Reading multiple books at once is like taking the worse aspect of reading and multi-tasking and mixing them together.

It might be easy to do if the books aren’t related at all, but if there are any similarities, you will get yourself confused and disorientated. To get the most out of a book, you need to focus on it and not have the easy distraction of another book at hand.

You might be good at multi-tasking and a great reader, but that doesn’t mean you should be reading multiple books, stick to one unless you don’t have a choice.

5) You Aren’t Giving Books The Attention They Deserve

Different books require different lives of attention; if you are reading popular fiction, you probably can casually read through it and not miss much. But if you are reading serious literature or in-depth nonfiction, you are going to need your full attention to keep track of the story or what is going on.

Giving difficult books only a little bit of attention means you are going to miss the important parts.

Any time you are reading a book, you give it a fraction of your attention; to really be reading it, you need to keep giving it attention. If you put down a book for a couple of weeks and then pick it up again, you are going to need to refresh yourself to see where you are at. When you do this, you are either taking your attention from something else or reorganizing it, but either way, your attention is split and not truly directed.

Reading a good book requires that you get yourself immerse in the content.

A good story has lots of depth and structure; if you are only giving it some of your attention, you aren’t going to be able to get everything that it has to offer. When you aren’t into the books you are reading, you aren’t getting what the book has to teach you.

Without focused attention, there is not much point in reading anything, let alone many books at once.

6) You Aren’t Reading You’re Accumulating

How can you possibly be reading ten books at the same time? And if you are reading so many books, how much time are you spending a day reading? For myself, when I am reading a book, I read it almost every day, I may miss a day here or there, but for the most part, I read every single day until the book is finished.

My point here would be that if you are looking at a book once a week or once a month, or less, then you aren’t reading it; you are merely collecting books and peaking at them every so often.

Reading is active; if you aren’t reading a book today, tomorrow or yesterday, are you really reading it?

I know I’m being hard on everyone here, but the people I have met, who are always picking up new books, are also the ones who never finish reading any of them. I don’t know you or your experience, so I can’t comment on that. On the other hand, the people I’ve met who read more books than me, have always been people who read a book in a couple of days to a week. If you are going to read 100 books in a year, you need to get through a book every 3.6 days, so you don’t have time to be reading multiple books at the same time.

I don’t mean to be too hard on anyone, but if you read multiple books at once, you aren’t likely reading all of them; you are instead reading one or two and have a pile of books you’ve accumulated that are collecting dust.

7) The Context Isn’t All That Different

One reason I’ve seen people saying justifies reading multiple books at once is being in different places. So they have a book beside their bed and a book they keep in their bag that they take with them when they go out. As far as a reason to read multiple books at once, this one makes the most sense to me. If I had to work somewhere that was especially dirty; I wouldn’t want to take that book into my bed.

At the same time, when I think of my own reading, or how anyone would read through a lot of books, they need to have a consistent routine of reading. When I used to commute to work, I would read on the bus and train. Now that I work from home, I read before bed.

If you are reading every day, there has to be a context as to when you read. But realistically, how many different contexts do you find yourself in that you need to be reading multiple books at the same time?

For the most part, if you make a habit of reading every day, you’re likely going to do that read in the same place or while doing the same thing.

So really, there isn’t much of a difference in context to justify the need to read different books in different contexts.

8) You Aren’t Doing It Right, Learn ‘How to Read a Book’

If you are really serious about reading a book, you need to do it right; you need to dig in and take a deep look at what is being said and the book’s message. This requires dedication, attention and focus. If you read multiple books at once, your mind is everywhere; you are changing from one topic to the next and never staying in the same place long enough to really get what you are reading.

In his book “How to Read a BookOpens in a new tab.,” Mortimer Adler outlined a process to get the most out of what you are reading. Adler suggests that our school system has let us down, and we haven’t truly learned to read; he also suggests that if we want to read correctly, we need to learn how to do it ourselves. 

Adler outlines four different stages of reading;

  1. The first is basic reading, which is the type we all learn to do. You read through the book and understand what it is about; you can comprehend it.
  2. The second stage is structural reading; in this step, you look at what is the structure of the book, what the book is trying to say, and what is the main problem the author is trying to solve.
  3. The third stage of reading is interpretive; at this point, the reader is looking to understand the terms used in the book. Once this has been sorted out, it is time to figure out what the author’s arguments are and how they are structured. This also means looking at the logic of those arguments and understanding them well enough to know if they are valid or not.
  4. The fourth and final stage is where the reader looks at the arguments that they now understand and tries to see if they make sense or are logically valid. The goal isn’t so much to dismiss what you don’t like; rather, if you don’t like it, that is fine, but what you are instead looking for is faulty logic or unsound reasoning.

At this point, a reader really understands a book and is in a much better position to make a judgement on the validity of what the book claims.

All this sounds like a complicated process and isn’t necessary for fiction, but if you are reading a book that is trying to teach or tell you something, it is important to read it the right way.

If you are reading many books at once, you aren’t truly reading them; you are more skimming through or consuming them.

What you do with the books you read is up to you, but I hope this list of arguments against reading a bunch of books at once helps to convince you that there is a better way.

Now it is up to you, are you reading multiple books at once? If so where do you disagree with me? If not, do you have different reasons from what is listed above?

Live a Meaningful Life; Here is How

I've put together a 42 item guide on how to live a meaningful life by appreciating what we are already doing. Get your copy by entering your email address below.

Robert Carr

Over the years, I've learnt to see things in a different light. This website is my place to share those insights and give my unique perspective on living a meaningful life.

Recent Posts