“What are you currently reading?” – Don’t ask me this question if you don’t have a few minutes time. Because I love to read several books at the same time. Of course not absolutely simultaneously, but I begin with the next book before having finished the first one. And then I begin with another one, and another one. Sometimes, I am reading up to 10 books at the same time.
“Why?” – Mainly because I am in different moods at different times. Also, my brain does not always have the same level of receptiveness. And some books require a certain setting.
Let me introduce you to my current canon to exemplify my point:
– Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Quite in line with my own philosophy of simple life and detachment from society, but not an easy read. This is the book that I like to read when I have an hour to sit in the forest and smoke a cigar. Because these moments don’t occur too often, I have been reading this book now for more than a year. Spreading out the experience of a book over such a long time does not diminish the joy. Quite the contrary: my longest read was also one of the most memorable ones and I cherished each occasion of the two years it took me to finish Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) by Thomas Mann. With foresight, Thomas Mann mentions in the foreword that he hopes it won’t take seven years to finish this voluminous novel.
– At exactly the opposite end of the intellectual spectrum is The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst. Spy novels are perfect to read on the train or at night in bed when mind and body are exhausted. So far, I am not fully convinced by this author but I will wait for a few more chapters until I begin to pass judgement. If you want to read really good spy novels, pick anything by Eric Ambler.
– A work of finer literature is Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov. Not a particular friend of Nabokov ever since I broke off reading Pnin, I am however interested in all literature about prisons since my own stint in Evin prison in Tehran, Iran in 2009. I already have a few other novels about this subject lined up on my shelves: The Shadow of a Smile by Kachi Ozumba, whom I met personally and who is an incredibly friendly guy, and of course The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
-About my main areas of interest in law, politics, history, and philosophy, I am always reading a few books at once. Currently these are Counterterrorism and Comparative Law of Investigative Detention by my friend and legal mentor Dan Stigall (he was my supervisor at the US Army JAG Corps), The Big Questions: Philosophy by Simon Blackburn, Kleine Geschichte Englands (a history of England to acquaint myself with the country in which I live now) by Michael Maurer, War Games by Linda Polman, and The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz. And more lined up already: Freedom for Sale by John Kampfner, A History of the Middle East by Peter Mansfield, In Defence of America by Bronwen Maddox, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, Geschichte des Antisemitismus (a history of anti-Semitism) by Werner Bergmann, The Spirit Level by Wilkinson/Pickett although I am not quite in agreement with some of their statistical methods, No god but God by Reza Aslan, Wer bin ich und wenn ja wie viele? by Richard David Precht, and The Constitution of the United Kingdom by Peter Leyland.
– And sometimes I am still reading literature in my mother tongue, especially from authors that have an incredibly impressive mastery of German. One of them is Thomas Mann and I have just started his Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull (Confessions of Felix Krull). My other favourite German author is Jurek Becker and his masterpiece is Jakob der Lügner (Jakob the Liar). Next, I will try Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jäger by Herta Müller. After all, it doesn’t happen every year that a German author wins the Nobel prize for literature.
“Doesn’t it confuse you to read so many books at once?” – No. As you can see, most of them are not plot-driven so it’s not like there are stories to confuse. If at all, some of these books complement each other.
With this choice of books next to my bed, it is ensured that at any given moment I will find something that I like. – Another (less worthy) advantage is that you will always have at least one very smart book that you can carry with you if you need to impress people, for example on a date. ;-)