I used to read one book at a time, start to finish. If I had to guess, it was a habit formed from years of school, where the curriculum was defined sequentially by one book, then a test, then the next. Everything in order, start to finish. One thing at a time.
For years I kept a pile of books to read on the corner of my desk. New books would go on the bottom. When I finished the top book, I’d start the next book on the stack.
The trouble with that was that it sometimes would take me a long time to plow through a book. Especially if it turned out to be a difficult read. I felt compelled to finish it before starting the next one. The whole pile would stack up to an impossible depth while one difficult book at the top bottle-necked the whole stack. If the book was particularly slow, I’d sometimes stop reading altogether for long stints.
More recently I’ve started reading differently, and it’s increased my capacity to read tremendously.
I’ve still got a reading queue, but I no longer keep a single stack to read sequentially. Instead of a stack, I’ve got a “to read” shelf, and next to my armchair I have a small table with the four books that I’m reading simultaneously. At any given time, I generally have two books of fiction and two of non-fiction, all on different topics, and every day, I read from at least three of the four.
I don’t make it a “rule,” so much as a practice. If I get really engaged in a book and don’t have time to get to three or four some days, it’s no big deal. I’m just thankful for an enjoyable read. More often than not, though, it’s the variety of ideas and topics made possible by crossing from one book to the next that keeps my interest and pace going.
Having several books all on different topics makes it easier to keep with the more difficult reads because I know that I don’t have to plow through any single read for long stretches. I find it much easier to do a difficult read for 15 or 20 minutes knowing that I’ll be able to read something more riveting right away. It’s a little instant gratification for my brain to be able to follow a hard think with a fast-moving thriller.
Because the books vary in length and in how well they hold my attention, I don’t finish them in the same order I started. That’s ok. I replace the one I’ve finished with another book from the same fiction or non-fiction category from the “to read” shelf in more-or-less the order they’ve come to my attention. Having one book that moves slowly doesn’t hold up the rest of the stack, so I’ve found that in the same amount of time I read more books.
In all, this non-sequential reading has helped me tremendously. I’d recommend trying it for anyone who wants to read more but frequently gets hung up on one slow-moving book.