A while ago I wrote about how to finish all the books you start. In the article I suggested that the best way was to have five “active” books going at the same time and to read them in rotation. There was nothing magical about the figure five, but it did allow for a good spread of different kinds of books.
However after some more experimentation I think I have found a better way - or at least one that works better for me. The new method is still based on having five active books but is more flexible and allows better for the way most of us read books.
What I am doing now is to keep my five active books in a pile. I have a strict rule that I am only allowed to read the active books, and no others. I can read any of these five books whenever I want to - I don’t have to read them in order. Whenever I finish a session with a book, I put that book back on the top of the pile. The result of this is that the book I looked at the longest amount of time ago is at the bottom of the pile.
If I decide that I want to start reading a book which is not in the pile, then I have either to wait until one of the active books is finished, or I have to make a conscious decision to stop reading one of the active books and take it out of the pile. If I decide to do this, it is always the book at the bottom of the pile that I remove.
So the decision to take on a new book before there is a vacancy boils down to the question “Do I want to read this book more than I want to read the book at the bottom of the pile?”
In practice I’ve found it’s very effective. It doesn’t ensure that every book I start gets finished. But what it has achieved is that I am finishing a lot more of the books I start than I was before. By forcing me to make a conscious decision to drop a book, it stops me just letting a book die of neglect.
Mind you, I still haven’t read Tristram Shandy!