I’ve always been a person who reads multiple books at once. There’s not really any middle ground in a trait like this, you’re either a “serial reader” or “poly-reader.” Of course, you might find yourself flipping back and forth between the types, reading one book at a time for a while, then starting several at once, but you can’t ‘sort of’ be one or the other.
I’ve sometimes wondered if being a ‘poly-reader’ wasn’t a good idea. If it meant I was ruining my ability to concentrate or dedicate myself to a single task, or if it meant I wasn’t reading as thoughtfully as I might if all my attention was dedicated to one book at a time. After a cursory Google search, I found that quite the opposite might be true. There are plenty of articles that suggest there are many benefits to reading multiple books at once, like this one, this one, and this interview with Chicago Tribune cultural critic Julia Keller.
While these lists extoll the practice of reading multiple books at once for benefits like reading more and/or faster, and reading a wide variety of books, I had a hard time finding any article that spoke to what I was really curios about:
How does reading multiple books affect the brain? What are the cognitive benefits or drawbacks of reading multiple books at once?
If you’ve read Daniel J. Levitin’s book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, you have to wonder if reading multiple books at once is just another version of multitasking, which he says depletes the brain of energy faster than engaging in one task. Now, obviously you can’t physically read two things at once so the large-scale switching back and forth between texts might not be exactly what he’s talking about, but it does make me wonder if reading multiple books at once is less efficient cognitively.
On the other hand, one of my favorite scientific studies looked at fiction’s affect on the brain, specifically, a writer’s use of sensory language and:
Researchers concluded that in certain cases, the brain can make no distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life.Todd Brison, CNBC
With the implied benefits of writing’s ability to mimic experience in the brain, is it possible that we’re only multiplying those positive effects when we read multiple books at once? That we’re creating more neural pathways and lighting up millions of neurons? Perhaps. If there is a study that already exists about what happens in the brain when we read multiple books at once, by all means, drop the info in the comments. I’d love to know.
But what can I offer? What does it mean if you like to read multiple books at once? From what I can tell, it means you really, really like to read. 🙂