One of the questions that I tend to get asked a lot is, “How do you read so many books so fast?” I always feel a bit boggled by this inquiry because the truth is that I am somewhat of a slow reader. The only books that I may read fairly quickly are contemporaries, but most of those are written to be easy and quick-paced indulgences. So, it’s not so much that I read fast as it is that I read a lot.
Ever since I re-discovered my fabulous love of reading back in 2015, I have been blowing through books quite regularly, even amid the worst slumps around. When I began book blogging shortly thereafter, specifically BookTubing, I saw that most creators would have their noses in multiple titles at a time. I became intrigued by this, tried this out for myself, and ended up falling in love with it. As long as each book had a somewhat different genre, it was fairly easy for me to compartmentalise each novel so that I could enjoy them all separately yet together. This bookish poly gig that I had going on would end up revolutionising my reading habits.
I gained skills in multitasking, learning how to sharpen my abilities with concentrating on multiple things at once (which is a phenomenal professional skill to have), learning to accept the unpredictability of my impulsive moodiness with regard to different genres, teaching myself to be more open-minded about trying new things, and accepting that I don’t have to finish every single book that I begin especially if I’m not enjoying it or if I am feeling harmed by it. Additionally, by engaging with different writing and prose styles between the different authors’ works, I started to get a much better grasp at the variety of proses that are out there, along with which ones resonated the most with me as both a reader and author, and which ones complemented specific genres and subgenres. Plus, it also taught me to shift my perspective of a book based on how it was written and what it was trying to convey due to said writing styles rather than looking at each and every title with a narrow-minded and singularly centred lens. Also, it showed me that nothing is a monolith. For example, a fiction story about a Fijian-Indian immigrant is never going to be the same as another immigrant story with a similar background. While there may be parallels between the two experiences, they are, in fact, separate and unique narratives that are equally valid and genuine, not superior or inferior to each other.
All these elements would eventually come together and assist me in learning how to write book reviews. It was a long and educational process and something that I continue to improve little-by-little with each new review that I write and as I experience more and more own-voices literatures from marginalised folx. My poly-bookish shenanigans also introduced me to reading and reviewing ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) with strict deadlines, which then saved my ass during some of the toughest university classes that I had. The training and habits that reading for deadlines instilled in me is one of the most powerfully versatile intellectual tools I’ve acquired. It has just been such a marvellously insightful gift to me in general for the last four to five years and now that I am evolving again as a bibliophile, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to let go of this habit.
I really love finishing multiple books at a time. Whenever I sign on to GoodReads or open up the Microsoft Excel document that I use to track my completed novels (read, not written), I feel a great sense of accomplishment by adding two or three to the lists at a time. It feels really validating and exciting and keeps on motivating me to maintain this passion. So, when my ability to juggle multiple novels at a time starts to become a devastatingly challenging task, what do I do? How can I learn to adjust to these involuntarily changes that my brain and body seem to be making without my permission? Does it make me a bad reader and reviewer? Does it mean that my love of books is disappearing?
Recently, I noticed that I immediately fall into a void of bookish ineptitude every time I pick up more than one title. My brain feels so heavy and frazzled, making my entire body fall victim to fatigue. I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as it is, so when these moments arise, they are utterly destructive of my day-to-day existence outside of simple reading sessions. An activity that once used to energise me quite remarkably has turned into my biggest antagonist, and it has been such a frustrating experience.
Nevertheless, with the arrival of a world pandemic that has significantly limited my access to free reading materials, as well as the comforts of in-person social exchanges based on this one special interest of mine, the overwhelming frustrations that I have been plagued with (pun not intended) are starting to melt away as newfound understandings arise. The fact that I am learning to become more of a single-book reading human is an experience that is teaching me a lot about myself and my life, quite comparably to the lessons that multi-book-diving has been imparting on me for the last few years.
The first thing that I have learned is that by putting all of my attention on a single title, I am better able to examine all the little details of a narrative more carefully. If my attention was segmented, I may not have been able to see the small clues and hints of foreshadowing that are discreetly placed in between the lines, words, and phrases. This creates an all-encompassing session that allows me to completely escape, which is a main factor in my passion for books to begin with. When numerous titles are involved, sometimes it can be hard for me to truly give in to the atmospheres and settings. It’s like my ADHD gets in the way and creates a thin, annoying wall.
Something else I noticed is that while it takes me a little longer to go through a high-stacked TBR, I actually read faster. I ran a small experiment where I read three to five books at a time during a three-week period and then another three-week period where I limited myself to one pick after another, and my overall reading speed was much faster during the singular sessions. My suspicion is that poly-biblioing may put unbeknownst pressure on me and it impacts my ability to sit back comfortably and just read. Rather, I may be fretting over giving each title an equal amount of attention and time, whereas with one book I am free of any and all constraints.
Other minor titbits that book monogamy has taught me includes an increase in critical and analytical thinking while reading, contemplating on all the details that make up a world or universe (specific to SFF) rather than just the basics (such as environments and racial/cultural diversity), not worrying about page counts, allowing myself to be even more impulsive with my moodiness as these whims are far easier to satisfy, having a decrease in severe ADHD triggers and episodes, and not worrying about which books to drag around with me when I leave the house (I like to keep one physical book with me at all-times). Lastly, I seem to be getting far more pleasure from reading again and potential ruts are easier to squash as they arise.
Life is an evolution of experiences. We learn lessons that can either teach us to behave and act in ways that bring us joy and positivity, or to understand the things we can’t control so they bother us less. By the same token, we can also repeat the same lessons over and over again because we are too afraid to make the changes our minds and bodies are desperate for us to make. I was definitely in the latter pool for a long time because I didn’t want to risk losing my love of reading again. It’s a humongous form of self-care for my mental health, as much as it is a passionate hobby. Yet, by not allowing myself to change and by not accepting that this change was decidedly a great next step for me as reader and even as a content creator, I was simply depriving myself of much-needed joy. I also know myself well enough to recognise that when I begin to make these seemingly minor, instinctive (and usually subconscious) transformations, it’s because I’m preparing myself for the next chapter or adventure to come. It’s like my mind and body know that something big is headed my way and it compensates in order to prepare itself. The lesson in that is quite straightforward: listen to your brain and body and, most importantly, trust them unconditionally.