A fairytale … on the other hand, demands of the reader total surrender; so long as he is in its world, there must be for him no other.
W. H. Auden
Auden, a poet writing in the mid 20th century, said this frankly marvellous quote about fairy tales which I found as the heading to a chapter in ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ (which I reviewed yesterday. It struck me in particular because at that precise moment I was myself caught between two worlds.
In fact, if you count real life (which you probably should) I was caught between three. Reading multiple books at once is not something I often do. I tend to get caught up in a story and then refuse to leave it. But there are times when circumstances dictate that you must pick up another book. In this case it was the fact that it was dark and I needed something I could read on a phone screen so I wouldn’t have to get up and turn on the light.
But it is a difficult place to be, particularly when you read a lot of fantasy. I feel like I harp on about world building far too much on this blog but I do believe it is important. When you’re reading multiple books, for which worlds have been carefully constructed, it can sometimes be difficult to keep them separate. I start wondering where particular characters are and then realise that they aren’t there because they exist in an entirely different fictional universe.
Admittedly this confusion may largely be the result of me reading books very late at night when I ought to be asleep. But I’m curious as to what people’s habits are in general. Am I unusual in my failure to keep multiple tomes on the go? Do other people happily have bookmarks in two or three or more volumes on their bedside table? Is this purely a genre based issue or would it be the same if I were to read romance or Sci-Fi, would I be expecting Darcey to turn up in Dickens? For Arthur Dent be there at the battle of Pelennor Fields?
But is this a sign that one book or another was less captivating? Were they not the fairy tales that Auden speaks of, or is it that reading multiple books at once doesn’t allow you to ‘surrender’ totally. Admittedly, when I’m truly engrossed in a book and I am pulled out of it, it takes me a moment to come back to reality, so maybe it is just this one occasion that I’m not fully committed to either.
Or maybe this is all a moot point and what I’ve really discovered is that I need to sleep more?
Can you read multiple books at the same time? Or are you like me, and had better stick to working through your ‘to read’ pile one at a time?