Ah, the pile of books at my bedside. And the ones on my desk at work. And the one I left by the living room sofa.
When I was a younger bookworm, I was resolute about reading, or devouring, one book at a time—often one book at a sitting, in those less-busy days. I cannot indulge myself in that sort of approach to reading anymore, however; I have learned to multi-book.
Some books lend themselves to multi-booking more than others. I do not think I could re-read The Brothers Karamazov while reading other texts. In fact, novels are the one form of reading that I still try to read with my former one-book-at-a-time method. Various forms of non-fiction, though, are terrific for book meshing. It’s amazing how sometimes a synthesis occurs in my mind while reading multiple, randomly-unrelated texts: a book on typography, a philosophy book, a brief treatise on tree-pruning, the biography of a writer or artist.
I can also read poetry collections severally and simultaneously. Diversity of style or subject matter doesn’t matter much; I read poems more or less individually, anyway, and then go back and re-read for a sense of the collection as a whole. The first read is one I can pick and choose from to get a sense of the style, craft, strategies, and tone of the poems. The second read I may approach more wholly, to get a sense of the poet. But first, I like to read the poems.
Something I can do while reading other poets’ work, as I would in a literary journal.
The diversity, the styles, the differing contexts…the books, the poems, the subjects seem to begin a discourse with one another that is often inspirational. Taking a walk after reading both Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature and a few chapters of an entomology textbook resulted in my poem “Luminaries.”
Might I be interested in hearing a conversation between Whitman and Heaney? Sappho and Gregory Orr? Lorca and Kim Addonizio? Reading poetry puts them in touch with one another through their work and my imagination.
Sometimes, I still feel dismayed at how rarely I get the chance to curl up in a hammock or chair and allow myself the opportunity to plow through a book uninterrupted, undistracted. I have learned to adapt to other reading strategies, however, and have therefore never managed to stop gorging on books.
Which is all to the good.
I sometimes experience this synthesis you describe, it can be very inspiring – and a bit scary, if you suddenly feel like alle the books you are reading are connected …