It’s important to have more than one book at a time, just as it’s important to have more than one dog.
A few weeks ago I finished “Dombey and Son”, my second slow read of the year. When I turned this last page, I felt helpless. Oh, no, I thought; I’m finished! Now what?
Such a great novel. These great characters. And as is typical of Charles Dickens to leave no mysteries, no questions, but to work out every detail and complete each character’s story. (I knew Mr. Toots was going to marry Susan, I knew that.)
Difficult, after having finished a captivating and all-consuming book, to dive into something new, don’t you think? That book you just finished is still on your mind.
And yet, there is no darker feeling than not reading anything. This feeling of being “between the books” is unsettling. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never read another book again. I survey. I worry. I play solitaire a lot on my phone.
But of course, there is a simple solution: Always have more than one book in progress.
And so when I finished “Dombey” I had options: I was only halfway through the other novel I was reading, and only about a quarter of the way into a narrative non-fiction book. .
It’s much easier to continue with something you’ve already started than to simply start something new. It’s one of the reasons I always lay out my books.
I compare it to my philosophy of owning dogs: Two at a time.
Because when you die – as, unfortunately, dogs eventually do – you already have another dog to keep you alive. And after a while you realize that the lonely dog needs a buddy, and voila! You are back to two. At least that’s how it’s always worked for me.
There are other happier, less death-centric reasons to read more than one book at a time.
We have different reading desires. These moods are mysterious and yet there is no denying their power.
Sometimes you want to tackle something difficult. Sometimes we are just looking to have fun or spend some time.
Sometimes we sit on the porch under a blanket and it’s pouring rain and we don’t want to get up for hours, and we need something to keep us busy all afternoon. (“Dombey” was good for that, but that’s pretty much any mystery.)
And then at night, I want to read something soothing that will help me fall asleep and have sweet dreams. (I don’t recommend mysteries for this. Certainly not thrillers, anyway.)
All of this reminds me of Winnifred Welles’ poem about dogs and the weather: “I would like a different dog for every kind of weather,” she wrote. “A narrow sighthound for a fog, a strange white sighthound…to run in the night.”
The same is true for books.
Do you read more than one book at a time? Or do you prefer total immersion in one then the other? (And if so, how do you know what to read next?)
Write to me, booksstartribune.com. Enter your name and city and we’ll talk about it in a future column. And now I have a dog to walk. Two dogs, actually. And three books to read.