Reading More Than One Book at Once (This is New to Me)

I’ve only ever been able to reliably read one book at a time. If ever I tried to read more than one, they had to be wildly different. One fiction and one non-fiction could work.

Lately I’ve started reading more than one book at the same time. There’s no special reason for this other than I’m still getting the hang of using library holds. Sometimes I go flipping through the Austin Library catalog and placing a hold on something I’d like to read someday, but that day often comes sooner than I’d expected. So I set out to juggle multiple books and I’ve found I actually like it.

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

They’re all non-fiction, and two are about the cinema. I thought they would start blending together in my head, which is why I usually refuse to read more than one thing at once, but that’s not happening. Instead I’m getting different things out of each, and it’s actually refreshing to put one down and skip to another.

The Agee book I read solely for the author’s prose style. The trouble with reading any film book is I’m often compelled to try to keep up with the movies discussed. But with something like Agee’s book, which is a collection of his film column in The Nation during the 1940s, it’s almost impossible to keep up. The author mentions too many films, some of which, I think, may have been lost or made extremely difficult to find over the decades.

Instead of sweating what movies Agee is talking about, I’m simply reading to see how he talks about them. That makes for an extremely enjoyable read. It’s useful to me since, you know, I’m supposed to write about movies on this site. Reading others, in an era far removed from my own, offers a nice perspective. I highly recommend Agee on Film to anyone with a critical eye who doesn’t want to necessarily write straightforward reviews to films.

I can’t quite recall why I sought out Sculpting in Time. Tarkovsky is a filmmaker whose work I always wanted to give a close look, though until recently I don’t think I’ve ever seen a complete film of his. This book contains some of the most beautiful writings on the cinema I’ve encountered. The way he speaks of the cinema is something I can easily get behind. And since I’m reading the book, I’m working my way through a selection of his films as well.1 It’s not necessary, but for me the timing was right.

Up in the Old Hotel is just an indulgence. It’s been on my list of books to read ever since John Gruber mentioned it on The Talk Show all the way back in December of 2013. It’s a collection of Joseph Mitchell’s New Yorker pieces from the 1940s, and it’s just plain incredible writing. He follows larger than life characters that may go unnoticed by most and paints an unforgettable picture of them. So far: saloon regulars, a Bowery movie theater owner, a down and out Harvard man, an old man who puts his oddities on display as a museum, and a fiery street preacher. Both journalistically and artistically, Mitchell’s work is something to behold, and perhaps even aspire to.

And so I bounce between these three books and I get something different from each. One inspires me to write about the cinema, one gives me a lot to think about on the nature of cinema, and one transports me to another place and time. If anything is going to get muddled in my head, it’s the Agee and Mitchell books, being that they’re from the same era. But they’re so different that no overlap has occurred yet.

Of course…a few other library holds have just come due. I think three is my limit, though. Maybe I’ll see if I can pack in a few more.

  1. To date I’ve watched: Ivan’s Childhood, The Mirror and Stalker. Long ago I saw his short take on The Killers, featured on Criterion’s excellent box set of the Robert Siodmak and Don Siegel* versions of the Hemingway short story.

    * Speaking of Don Siegel, I’ve had a copy of his A Siegel Film for years, but I’ve never read it because I feel I’d need to watch all of his films as I go. Maybe that can be my next reading project… ↩︎