How many books are too many?

By Liz, wondering when, exactly, my reading habits got so out of control

First, let’s be clear. This is not about how many books are too many to own. There’s no such thing in my mind. Books HAVE to be everywhere, it’s just the way it is. No, my question is a bit different. So here it is:

Just between us girls, I’m wondering how many books are too many to be reading at once.  I’m asking for a friend, of course.

Here’s the thing. I went through this phase recently of feeling like I’d sacrificed a lot of learning in recent years. Like, I hadn’t stayed up to speed on, well, pretty much anything—the podcasts I loved, shows I wanted to watch, books (omg, the books! My current TBR list and all the new stuff), and even the latest on marketing and communications, where I spend my daily life. 

So when I found myself in possession of some time that I didn’t normally have, I went on a crusade. I created space in my Passion Planner to track all the books I read, the podcasts I listened to—both current favorites and new ones I heard about—and shows to catch up on. And I started getting up to speed. It felt really good. Then, like I tend to do, I got carried away. 

Because when you’re constantly consuming, it means you’re going to, by default, keep hearing about new things you want to consume. For me, that looks like this: I listen to a podcast, that directs me to another podcast, that talks about a new author or speaker that resonates with me, which leads me to their website and inevitably a book or two, along with a whole slew of other videos to watch or articles to read that keep leading me to other new people, or people whose content I want to revisit, hence taking me further and further down the rabbit hole. 

Also, I had a conversation with someone about the classics, and how reading them again years later could be really enlightening. So of course I pulled a couple of those off my shelf too.

A few of my books-in-progress

The result? I have literally nine or ten books in progress right now, all with varying degrees of progress made. And that doesn’t count the audio books, of which I have one fiction and three non-fiction in progress. 

And then at night I’m torn. Do I watch a show on my list, or do I read one of the books? What if I’m not in the mood for crime right before bed? I can turn to a personal development or self-help book. But which one?? Do I want to heal my inner child, or my relationships, or read the latest branding book, or dig into something to help renew my creative writing spirit? 

I’ve always been a learner. I loved school (well, once I hit college) and to this day am always taking new classes and adding things I want to learn to that list (yes, another list – someone save me).  But I’ve always also been one of those people who overwhelms herself. Instead of devoting 15 minutes a day to reading one thing, I feel like I can’t read anything if I can’t spend a couple hours on it. So then I just look at the whole pile of stuff and feel like there’s no point because I’ll never get through it all. And head to the TV to watch one of my shows, and then Netflix gives me a new recommendation…

Yes, it’s a vicious circle. Probably the easiest thing to do would be to limit myself to one thing at a time. But what if I’m not in the mood for that thing? The struggle is real. 

Readers, what about you? How many books do you read at once? Do you know a good support group for my kind? Leave either of those insights in the comments!

37 Thoughts

  1. Here’s something I’ve learned about myself: if I start reading multiple novels at the same time, I rarely finish them. I always tend to gravitate to the one that strikes my fancy the most. The rest, no matter how good they are, start collecting dust and get lost in the pile. That’s READING. I can read one and LISTEN to another with no problem, although I love having my Audible book and the same book on Kindle connected so I can bounce back and forth.

    That’s fiction. I’ll have two or three nonfiction going at the same time, no problem. Weird how our brains work.

    So many books, so little time.

  2. I usually have 2 going at the same time. 1 on my Kindle and the other a print book. They are both different genre’s so that I don’t confuse them. 1 is always a cozy and the other usually a thriller or true crime.

  3. Generally, I have a couple going at a time. It depends on my mood or the reason I may be reading each. I also read non-fiction for various interests, mostly history, so I join the group. But we did it in school. Multiple subjects, multiple reading assignments and all those lovely papers we researched and wrote! Besides, what a great way to shut out the world when we need to.

    1. That’s a really good point, Doris. I think my problem is more in the “getting overwhelmed” stage than the actual “trying to consume” stage.

  4. So funny, Liz! I only read one novel at a time, but I might interleave it with a non-fiction for book research. I abandoned self-help a while ago, LOL, so that’s not an issue. I’m sure I would benefit from rereading some classics, but the new fiction just keeps on coming!

  5. LIZ, I feel your pain. For the longest time, I used to read only one book at a time. But I lost my reading mojo for most of 2020 and 2021, so I have changed my approach. I used to be able to read a book in 3-4 hours but can no longer concentrate for such a sustained period of time. So I now have one or two fiction books (on Kindle or physical copy), a non-fiction book and an audiobook on the go at the same time. I switch to another book when my interest flags.

  6. Liz, while there have been occasions where I’m reading two books at the same time, I generally just stick to one book at a time. I find it is just easier that way.

    I don’t know of any support groups for multiple book readers though. I guess you might have to start your own.

  7. May be the odd duck here, but I only read one book at a time. It’s the way my mind works. I think if I read more than one at a time, I’d be creating a whole new book when I messed them all together. 🙂
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  8. Books are like friends, Liz. Each gives a different view of the world. A lively conversation with several, but as we all discover, some people (and books) are like uranium, and we have to limit our exposure.

  9. At one point, I had a book – a different book – in every room. So that’s 6 or 7 books. Plus my husband and I would alternate between shows every night.

    But frankly it was exhausting. I find I enjoy everything much more if I focus on ONE THING, finish it, and move on to the next.

    1. I just heard someone say on a podcast that he leaves a book in every room so he’s doing something productive in any downtime. That’s one way to look at it I guess! But yes, it can be a lot.

  10. Laughing. I was thinking, “hmmm, I only have one book going.” But then I remembered the nonfiction book on character I’d just started reading too. I have no advice. Maybe if it ain’t broke don’t fix it — you do you. Oops. I guess that’s advice.

  11. I’m a one book reader in fiction, but I can add multiple non-fiction books without a problem.

    As for a support group – you’ve found one! We all support each other’s fiction addiction, no matter what form it takes.

  12. Until the pandemic, I only ever read one book at a time–start to finish. I like to really immerse myself in whatever I’m reading and I have the opposite of ADD (perseveration?) in most things I do. However, during the pandemic, especially when reading “assigned texts”–books for blurbs, panels I’m moderating, interviews, research for whatever I’m writing, etc., I often dipped in and out of “comfort re-reads” during moments of stress. I’m not sure whether this habit will continue when things go back to normal–if they ever do.

  13. I usually read a couple at a time. One is usually a cozy and the other a romance novel.

  14. I read one book at a time. I might mix in an audio book (about once a month), but I just physically read one book at a time.

  15. I generally have 6-10 going on at the same time. I have ebooks on my KindIle (around 600), I have paperback and hardbacks (around 300), and I have library books (40) of which I do have to return so those take priority over the others. The good part about library books is if I do not like them I saved money because I did not buy them. When I went on vacation I had 6 and read them all. I will always gather the older books for traveling and since my husband and I plan to do alot of traveling this year (we had to cancel everything back in 2019 when my husband retired) I will be going through books more quickly,

  16. In my opinion, you can never have to many Print books. I read at most 2 print books at a time. I rarely read eBooks as I have trouble reading them. Love print books the best.

  17. I do not know a support group for you. I can only read one book at a time. Though sometimes I can read a book and some short stories. I try to read during the day some and always a few chapters before I go to sleep. I work on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle a week and finish a book a week (a couple of hours in the afternoon). I do genealogy and watch old movies, etc. during the day also. A couple of times a week, I do laundry and other housework. I only read eBooks when traveling. I have tried reading a few chapters of nonfiction while I am reading cozies, but it is harder ow that I am older. So, one book at a time. And since I am retired, I don’t start any of that until noon. But sometimes, I read until 2 am….

  18. I do read many books at one time. I am reading six books a day for devotions. I will start a Bible study next week that will add a book. I am reading an ARC of Gabby Allan, Something Fishy This Way Comes. I am able to keep them all straight. Thank you for sharing.

  19. I tend to read one book a time, I’ve experimented with reading more than one but I found I couldn’t separate them (even if they were vastly different genres). Loved reading this! ❤️

  20. I have at least 10-12 non fiction books going at all times. I do feel like I need to work on just finishing some and this applies to many tasks in my life. Fiction I definitely go from start to finish but I still have all the non fiction on the side.

  21. Gotta read by mood! Once, a book took me a year to finish – but I loved and remembered everything I learned from it. 😜 Just because a book is fun doesn’t mean I’m in the mood for the writing style.

  22. I read several books at a time.and an Audible one at the same time.

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