Most nights, there is barely enough room in my bed for me to sleep. As I brush my teeth each evening, I’m forced to decide which bedmate I can boot to the floor (or, occasionally, my inadequately tiny bookshelf). The excuses pile up in my head like lines I would use to blow off last-minute plans: “Don’t worry, Jonathan Safran Foer, I’ll get to you soon!” “Alice Munro, you know I love your short stories, but I really need to focus on this memoir right now.”
It’s the apology-ridden language of an addict, only for me, the substance in question is less dangerous (depending on who you ask, at least) than drugs or alcohol: I’m a serial book-juggler, and despite my best efforts, I’ll probably always be one.
So what is a serial book-juggler, you ask? In the simplest terms, it’s someone who bounces back and forth between several books at a time, reading a chapter or two here and then abandoning the novel for a few weeks in favor of some other, attention-grabbing read. More complicated, for me at least, is the way these books feel like planets orbiting my life. In my car: three titles, one of which has been riding shotgun for the past two weeks, glaring back at me like a neglected puppy. In my living room: a neat little stack that my roommates have collected, through which they mean to say “Quit leaving books in the living room.” In my bed: well, let’s just not go there. The cat that once nestled next to my feet has been replaced with a hardcover copy of the Aeneid and a few copies of The New Yorker.
There’s an upside, if you’re the type to find silver linings. On the few occasions when some sneaky friend manages to get inside my room (usually, it’s so messy I bark out a quick, “Don’t come in!” and close the door), I seem like a very literary person. There have been plenty of times when an acquaintance has mentioned Elizabeth Bishop and I’ve said, “Oh, borrow my copy!” It’s a way to make friends, and then lose them very quickly when they realize that you’ll forgo social outings so you can save up for that new issue of McSweeney’s or whatever.
I’m not proud of it. It takes me ages to finish any one thing, unless that one thing happens to meet that perfect confluence of time/place/interests. I’ve been reading Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison for months, yet picked up the previously mentioned Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down and gobbled it up in three days flat. Currently, I’m forsaking Don DeLillo’s The Names, a collection of indie short stories, and an MFA application guide in favor of an advance reader copy of a goth-themed YA novel.
When I feel guilty or strange about my addiction to starting books, to juggling them all at once, the Pollyanna side of me says that these heaps of paper are like friends. With every relationship, there’s a cycle. Your best friends never leave – I pick up Bishop’s complete poems a few times a month. Sometimes, you make new ones. Sometimes, a connection fades, only to come back stronger when the seasons or your perspective changes. Other times, you just don’t jell. And you know what? That’s ok. Nobody likes everyone, and not everyone likes you. Sometimes your friends are hip, and sometimes they’re embarrassingly loud or geeky (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, for my part).
I probably won’t change my ways. There are plenty like me out there, brows furrowing as they shove aside stacks on their bed each night. We are a secret union, this type, and when all the e-readers in the world go on the fritz, we’ll be there to lend you a copy of our favorite poems.